It’s December and Prospect Park’s trees are coming to life.
A casual walk through the Brooklyn greenery might show cherry blossom trees in bloom and budding magnolia trees. And while that might seem unseasonal, Curator of Woody Plants at the New York Botanical Garden Melissa Finley told Gothamist there’s nothing for tree-lovers to be worried about.
When it comes to the blooming cherry blossom trees, Finley said they’re a variety called Autumn Flowering Higan Cherry, which usually bloom in the fall and stand out against the otherwise brown and yellow color palette in city parks during the colder months.
“It’s unusual,” Finley said. “It’s very eye-catching because it does bloom around this time. It’s one of the few cherry trees that do that.”
She added, “It really just depends on a lot of factors of temperature and light, but it’s very normal, especially with the warmth of a fall we’ve had, to be blooming now.”
And though bare tree branches might be expected in the cold winter months, many of the city’s trees, like the magnolias in Prospect Park, are covered in buds — early reminders of next year’s bloom to come.
Finley said the buds grow all summer and winter, but are more obvious now that the leaves have fallen off.
“With magnolia, as you can kind of see, they’re covered in these really wonderful, kind of winterized scales that are very fuzzy and hairy, and silvery and those scales really just protect the bud over the winter,” Finley said. “They’re just able to stay on the tree until they’re ready to bloom.”
Underneath those insulating fuzzy scales, the magnolia buds and flowers are typically sensitive to cold weather. Over the spring, many of the city’s magnolia trees didn’t fully bloom due to a freeze in early April.
“This year was very tragic,” Finley said. “But it seems to have only affected that year’s buds. So once they’re done, they fall off, and the tree is able to kind of continue on with its normal activity, creating leaves and photosynthesizing. It didn’t seem to have damaged any of the full year buds, thankfully. And it could happen again this year. We’ll just kind of have to wait and see.”
When the flowers are ready to bloom, usually in late March or early April, the scales will fall off and collect on the ground around the tree. From there, if the temperatures stay warm enough, the flowers will bloom revealing their delicate petals – usually pink, white or yellow.