Plant & Wildlife Guide
Over the years, the Horticulture team at Brooklyn Bridge Park has identified, studied, and compiled massive amounts of research on the plants and wildlife found in the Park. Visit the Plants & Wildlife page to learn more about what and who finds home in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Horticulture & Ecology Databases
For detailed spreadsheets documenting the research by Brooklyn Bridge Park’s horticulture team, download the files below.
Explore by Ecosystem
The gardens of Brooklyn Bridge Park keep growing and blooming! By April, the Sumac Path on Pier 1 is carpeted in yellow and blue wildflowers. In late June, the Pier 6 Flower Field is a half-acre of pink and purple swaths of native flowers. The clouds of Swamp Milkweed with spikes of Liatris in front of Jane’s Carousel in August paint the landscape in flowers. By early autumn, grasses, daisies and early goldenrod on the Granite Terrace light up in the low fall light.
These gardens are not only beautiful; they perform critical functions for Park patrons and wildlife alike. The beds define views, block wind, and provide shade. In addition, the flowers, berries, and beds provide habitat for native bees, butterflies and migratory birds. Brooklyn Bridge Park is composed of seven ecosystems that both beautify the landscape and offer food and habitat for a vast array of wildlife.
The gardens at Brooklyn Bridge Park are managed organically in order to protect the environment in the Park and the water around it. Brooklyn Bridge Park uses compost, captures and recirculates rainwater for irrigation, and practices organic pest management. The absence of chemicals and the inclusion of native plants ensure that the Park is a healthy environment for visitors and birds, butterflies, ladybugs, turtles and even the microscopic soil organisms that keep our plants happy.
Ornamental gardens grace the entrances, major walkways and playgrounds of Brooklyn Bridge Park, providing beauty throughout the year. These gardens are comprised of native and exotic plants selected for their gorgeous spring and summer flowers, evergreen foliage, and incredible fall colors.
From the bamboo at Slide Mountain that can grow 20 feet high, to the Swing Valley hydrangea flowers as big as your head, to the smokebush flowers that cast a purple haze in the gardens of Sandbox Village, these trees and shrubs create lush scenery all year round. While known for their looks, these plants are not divas requiring monthly pruning and endless fertilizer. The ornamental gardens are made up of hardy plants that have both beauty and brawn.
The freshwater gardens are some of the most unique ecosystems in Brooklyn. They not only provide lush natural beauty, but collect and filter rainwater for reuse in the Park’s irrigation system. The gardens contain many plants that were native to this region prior to European development and therefore host an incredible array of native birds, insects, and even turtles. The freshwater gardens are a favorite of our growing butterfly and migratory bird populations, as the flowers and fruiting shrubs provide abundant habitat throughout the year. The gardens are gorgeous in all seasons: bright blooms in spring, lush greenery and wildflowers in summer and some of the best fall colors in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
On Pier 1, there are five ponds along the Greenway, each with different ornamental plantings and connected by four weirs that allow water to flow between them as it is filtered by plants. Pier 6 hosts a Marsh Garden next to the Water Lab. Discover the birds, berries, and flowers along this hidden path. In front of Jane’s Carousel at Empire Fulton Ferry, a large bioswale holds stormwater, as it is filtered by thousands of beautiful flowers, and flows back out to the river.
Native Woodland Gardens
The woodland gardens throughout Brooklyn Bridge Park provide shade, windbreaks, and a place to explore. These tree-dominated plantings echo a forest edge ecosystem once common in this region. The dense shrubbery, abundant berries, and herbaceous flowering plants provide habitat and forage for migratory birds that fly along the East Atlantic Flyway and through Brooklyn Bridge Park in the spring and fall. These “dense hedgerows” also slow the ocean winds and filter the summer sun, making them a perfect hang out for butterflies and Park patrons alike.
Over time, small trees in these gardens will grow large, shading out the sun-loving plants beneath them and creating the permanent canopy. Gardeners manage this succession by planting shade-adapted plants under the growing Oak, Sweetgum, and Locust trees. Stroll along the Sumac Path on Pier 1 to see these beautiful spring ephemerals carpeting the shady hills.
Some of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s most beautiful gardens are meadows dominated by grasses and herbaceous perennials. With long grasses swaying in the breeze and tall flowers like Black-Eyed Susans and Cone Flowers attracting bees and butterflies, these lovely gardens reach their peak in summer. In the fall, the low afternoon sun catches the bronze foliage and illuminates it like fire.
In the northeastern region of the United States, meadows are generally temporary ecosystems, usually resulting from fires or grazing, eventually seceding to trees over time. Permanent meadows must be managed – often with controlled burning or seasonal mowing to discourage the woody plants that would naturally dominate. Brooklyn Bridge Park opts to mow each spring and watch the meadow rise again in the summer.
Brooklyn Bridge Park has a number of small, distinct meadows but the Flower Field on Pier 6 is the most beautiful. The changing blooms attract butterflies, bees and people from spring to fall, and birds throughout the winter. The Pier 3 Berm is the Park’s largest meadow. This 35’ high hill buffers the noise from the BQE that runs along the Park. Notice the sound difference the next time you walk by.
Pier 6 Flower Field
At the Pier 6 Flower Field, a full half-acre of native wildflowers grows. Stroll around and through this gorgeous planting to catch the views of both the garden and the skyline.
Waves of colorful flowers bloom from spring until late fall, as the pink and gold drifts of summer flowers turn to the blues and purples of fall. Visitors to the Pier 6 Flower Field will find colorful milkweeds, asters, and goldenrods.
Butterflies are especially drawn to the Pier 6 Flower Field due to the large colorful drifts of flowers, which they detect at great distances. Download our butterfly guide to see which of these lovely insects you can see in the Park.
The salt marshes are a rare example of a monoculture in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here, Smooth Cordgrass replicate the exclusive plant communities that once dominated the coasts of the Northeast. Now a rare occurrence along the shoreline, the Cordgrass provides a habitat for ducks and other waterfowl that eat and live in the grass, along with many crustaceans and bivalves.
Cordgrass dominates the salt marsh because it can withstand oxygen-constricting salt water. While most plants die when their roots lose oxygen, Cordgrass is able to move oxygen from its leaves to its submerged stems. As debris accumulates in the cordgrass over time, soil builds up above the waterline and creates habitat for less salt-tolerant plants. In a natural salt marsh this process builds new landmass that expands outwards into the ocean. At Brooklyn Bridge Park, we maintain this ecosystem as a salt marsh, removing the debris.
The lawns of Brooklyn Bridge Park are perfect for picnicking, playing, relaxing, and enjoying a show. The stunning views and lush green grass makes the lawns a wonderfully special place to be.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is proud to maintain all lawns organically, with no chemical herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. This is a complex and experimental process because turf lawns are an unnatural ecosystem – the grass is not native, the soil is compacted, and the plants are continuously cut to keep them low.
The turf team at Brooklyn Bridge Park succeeds in keeping lawns rich and verdant by creating a healthy soil ecosystem with stable populations of the symbiotic organisms that help grass grow. After evaluations, both the organisms and the grasses are fed with organic nutrients and compost tea.
The biggest challenge in maintaining lawns is compaction. Pressure from foot traffic squeezes soil, making it hard for grass roots to grow. In order to keep lawns green, they are closed after rain storms or large events and closed twice a week to allow them to rest. Dogs are not allowed on lawns. The turf team regularly aerates, reseeds, and top-dresses the grass to keep the turf lush and healthy. Please note that lawns will occasionally be closed for this maintenance, but the majority of lawns will always be open.
Look up on Pier 1, Pier 5, and Pier 6 to find our three green roofs. Each contains shrubs and flowers well adapted to the dry and windy conditions. Green roofs perform important functions for the park and the buildings they grow on: cooling the structures in the summer and insulating them in winter, reducing rainwater runoff and mitigating urban heat island effect. Flowers and branches can be seen in spring spilling over the edges and down the walls. For more information, check out our sustainability section.