Garden News Blog

Harvesting Woody Plant Material on Staten Island

For three days in early August, a group of intrepid volunteers helped harvest the saplings that will become artist Patrick Dougherty's latest construction, a woven-wood sculpture created in honor of BBG's Centennial.

On Tuesday I joined the crew that collected the woody material at Ocean Breeze Park on Staten Island. This 110-acre park, located south of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by the Staten Island University Hospital, contains wetlands, grasslands, and shrub forest that have been left in their natural state. I was surprised to learn how young this site is; it was created from landfill excavated during the construction of the Verrazano Bridge in the 1950s. The plant population reflects whatever has since then landed here and thrived, including both native and exotic species.

I worked along with Dougherty, his son, and his assistant; professional staff and horticulture interns from BBG; and some of BBG's wonderful garden volunteers. The team targeted Salix atrocinerea, a nonnative willow that is designated an invasive species in New York State. (Staff from the Greenbelt Native Plant Center along with BBG's director of Science made sure we didn't enthusiastically harvest any other species, like the sweet-smelling bayberry which is native to this region.) These weedy willow saplings grow in clumps all over the site, and cutting them back might slow their spread and help some other species establish themselves. We quickly settled into an efficient rhythm, with some volunteers loping and sawing down saplings, others dragging them to the truck, and others bundling and loading them. Altogether the crew harvested three truckloads of small, supple saplings and two trailers of larger trees.

Today Dougherty started work at BBG, in the Plant Family Collection meadow. He'll be at work daily between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and Garden visitors are welcome to stop by and watch the construction take shape.

Elizabeth Peters is the director of Digital and Print Media at BBG.

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