Photos and text by NCL Associate, Hagan Knauth.
Plants that are native to a particular region (New England, for example) have developed a stable, resilient, and energy efficient system of cooperation that is made possible only through the glacial pace of evolution. The harmony between co-evolved species is deep, multifaceted, and subject to much research. One well documented benefit of plant co-evolution is the staggering of wildflower blooms across four seasons. With every season comes a unique palette of plants, all patiently “waiting” for their turn until the prior group has completed their reproductive cycles. Spring ephemerals bloom before tree leaf canopies cast shade. The spring foliage then returns to the earth, making way for the summer bloom. Summer flowers eventually wilt in deference to their autumn successors. Ecologists call this time synchronized process “temporal separation”, and it is a brilliant adaptation that allows every plant species a window of opportunity for pollination.
Through careful curation of native plant species, the Naval Cemetery Landscape (NCL) has been designed to harness the power of temporal separation.
As a featured stop along the Greenway, the NCL embodies one of Brooklyn Greenway Initiative’s missions to redefine green space as a place of refuge for the public that simultaneously nourishes a thriving and self-sufficient community of native flora and fauna. Below we will dive into each season and highlight some plants and animals you can expect to see here.
Songbirds are among the first to announce the arrival of spring. Glints of red dash between the budding branches, a Northern Cardinal whistles and chirps from the bramble. The American robin, more bold, ground forages in the open, turning over leaf litter in search of a beetle or worm. A native brown belted bumble bee lobs across the boardwalk, perhaps honing in on the flowers of foxglove beardtongue, or anise hyssop. Spring at the NCL is a sensory experience, one of the few respites in NYC where you can experience nature as it stirs from its winter slumber. One particularly beautiful sight is the bloom of our red maple, found just to the right as you enter the meadow. Red maple flowers emerge before its leaves (allowing for maximum wind exposure to spread its pollen) and are among the first flowers to bloom here.
Purple coneflower, woodland sunflower, and black eyed susans have all bloomed, and their vibrant discs of color attract pollinators of all shapes and sizes, be it honey bee, butterfly, bumblebee, hoverfly, wasp, or beetle. Swaths of native grasses lie below, interspersed with species of mountain mint, milkweed, butterfly weed, and bee balm. Towering above it all are the Joe Pye Weed, their firm stalks framing the boardwalk curves. If you need a break from the summer heat, you can step into the shade of our black cherry grove where you can sit and write in the waterproof journal provided in a drawer underneath the Nature Sacred bench. As the sun lowers into the horizon, a blanket of golden light spreads over the meadow. At this time, dragonflies can be observed darting overhead, hunting smaller insects. Further above, American Kestrel or red tail Hawk may be perched in search of an early evening meal. This abundance of life reminds us that with the right effort, nature can be a welcome presence in our busy urban lives.
Native grasses have reached their mature and sprawling forms, obscuring the meadow floor below. Orb weaver spiders take full advantage of fall foliage and lodge their webs between stalks of aster and goldenrod. A pleasant, revolving hum echoes from all around you as grasshoppers, cicada, and katydid chime in. Fall at the NCL is just as colorful as summer, yet welcomes even more reflection and stillness. By this time, the evolved cooperation of the meadow landscape is clear, as each pocket, and every niche is filled by a member of the flower orchestra. One particular wildflower found, Evening Primrose, demonstrates its evolved wisdom every night.
As its name suggests, Evening Primrose flowers open in the evening hours and are pollinated primarily by night-flying hawkmoths. By opening at night, the primrose avoids daytime competition, and welcomes the covert, nocturnal pollinator. In turn, the hawk moths have gained an ally in the primrose, which provides crucial nutrition during their nighttime antics. This is but one example of a single organism’s self-supporting activities extending to support the broader ecosystem.
Not long after we roll the entrance gate open, joggers and other early risers make the first footprints on the boardwalk snow . While our winter hours are fewer, we still welcome visitors on the weekend. The meadow is still humming and provides crucial habitat for overwintering songbirds such as the ruby-crowned kinglet, and the dark-eyed junco. NCL associates are out and about, be it answering visitor questions, or breaking up ice for safer passage on the greenway bike path. We hope you stop by and join us in celebrating another good season at the Naval Cemetery Landscape.
The Naval Cemetery Landscape is a 1.7 acre memorial meadow and sacred grove, located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard off of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. The NCL is open to visitors year round, with seasonal hours that can be found here.