The New York Botanical Garden: The Impact of Hurricane Sandy

by Maya Navon for Treasures of New York

Photo courtesy The New York Botanical Garden.

Much like the rest of New York City, The New York Botanical Garden did not escape the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The 50-acre Thain Family Forest, which is home to over 30,000 trees, was the Garden’s biggest victim from this natural disaster. Sandy knocked down or damaged over 550 trees across the grounds, including over 100 trees in a forest which has stood since the last Ice Age. In terms of the number of trees destroyed, Sandy was the most devastating storm in the Garden’s 120-year history.

For those who care for the Forest, the destruction of Sandy was particularly difficult. “I must say, walking in the next day and seeing, particularly in the Forest, the level of devastation was heartbreaking. These are trees that I knew sort of individually. And I’m not going to say I took them for granted, but I will say that I didn’t celebrate them enough while they were still standing,” said Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections of the Garden.

The destruction of these trees created a research opportunity to further understand the Forest’s complex history. With many of the trees being around 200-300 years old, the rings of their trunks tell important stories and reveal helpful scientific facts. Researchers will be able to determine the exact age of many of the fallen trees through a coring process which reveals the rings of a tree. “Through the recent storm damage from Hurricane Sandy, we’ve teamed up with researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Tree Ring Lab,” explained Jessica Schuler, Director of the Thain Family Forest. “They actually came and cored some of our living trees and actually took tree cookies of some of the fallen trees and they are going to work with us on dating them.”

The New York Botanical Garden’s Todd Forrest, VP of Horticulture & Living Collections, and Jessica Schuler, Manager of Thain Family Forest, discuss the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Garden.

The trees also hold records of weather within their trunks from their entire lifespan. By studying the fallen trees from Sandy, scientists have been able to document weather patterns and climate change by analyzing tree growth. “That will certainly help people better understand the way climate has changed over time,” said Forrest. In fact, the rings of the trees not only reveal weather patterns and age, but also can even help determine the future of the forest and its many species.

The destruction of Sandy has also shed light on the importance of maintaining the Forest and appreciating its history and beauty every day. For thousands of people each year, the Thain Family Forest is a place of escape from the urban landscape and a source of information about the importance of nature. Schuler explained, “I think that now more than half the world’s population is living in an urban area and it’s very quickly becoming disconnected from our natural world. And to have a forest in an urban area where people can come and experience nature, it’s essential to the future of our world.”

Despite the damaging effects of the storm, the future looks bright for the Thain Family Forest. With new research opportunities and a better understanding of its beloved trees, the Forest is prepared for growth, change, and a new generation of visitors.

In this segment from MetroFocus, host Rafael Pi Roman sits down with author Todd Forrest and photographer Larry Lederman to discuss their collaboration on “Magnificent Trees,” book of photos and essays on the trees of The New York Botanicial Garden. Video courtesy of MetroFocus.