Greenwood Heights

Green-Wood Cemetery rolls out new tree-care initiatives

February 27, 2019 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Green-Wood Cemetery has devised a new plan to take care of its 7,000-plus trees. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The trees that shelter the dead at famous Green-Wood Cemetery also work 24/7 to protect the living.

The trees capture and store about 250,000 pounds of atmospheric carbon annually. That’s the equivalent of 88.3 cars’ greenhouse gas emissions for a year.

The trees remove around 12,000 pounds of pollutants from the air annually: ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

They also capture about 2.5 million gallons of stormwater and keep it from flowing into Brooklyn’s sewers.

The cemetery is launching new initiatives to take good care of these trees — or its “living collection,” as Joseph Charap, Green-Wood’s director of horticulture, refers to them.

“We’re really aggressively conducting a reforestation plan,” Charap told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Joseph Charap is Green-Wood Cemetery’s director of horticulture. Photo by Art Presson
Joseph Charap is Green-Wood Cemetery’s director of horticulture. Photo by Art Presson

Starting in April, 100 trees will be planted along the Greenwood Heights cemetery’s fence line and 180 trees will be planted within the cemetery, he said.

The group of new trees will include native and exotic species with a focus on trees that do well in warmer winters. There will be “wildlife-enhancing species” and “pollinator trees,” Charap said.

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Reforestation is one element of a new arboretum management plan Green-Wood has devised, made possible through a grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.


Preserving “veteran trees” — as the oldies but goodies are called — is one of the plan’s top priorities.

Storm preparedness

“The desire to have a safe environment for visitors and staff, preserve and perpetuate Green-Wood’s living collection and protect the cemetery’s historic monuments was a primary inspiration for this management plan,” Charap said.

Storm preparedness is another key aspect of the plan. Green-Wood lost 300 trees when Superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012.

Reducing the presence of invasive plant species is another important part of the arboretum management plan.

Green-Wood Cemetery is a Level III Arboretum. According to accreditation criteria from an organization called ArbNet, this means the historic graveyard has more than 500 types of woody plants, employs a curator of its tree collections, does research and conservation and collaborates with other arboreta.

The 478-acre cemetery earned this classification in 2018. Previously it had been a Level II Arboretum, which has more modest criteria.

Green-Wood Cemetery’s trees capture and store about 250,000 pounds of atmospheric carbon annually. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
Green-Wood Cemetery’s trees capture and store about 250,000 pounds of atmospheric carbon annually. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
A green oasis before public parks were created

Sylvan greenery has been an important feature of Green-Wood since its founding in 1838.
It served as a green oasis and recreation area for 19th-century New Yorkers before public parks and botanic gardens were established.

Today, Green-Wood is one of Brooklyn’s largest green spaces, home to more than 7,000 trees. Charap hypothesizes that a number of them have been alive longer than the cemetery has been in existence.

The high-profile graveyard is the final resting place of famous folk including artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, stained-glass master Louis Comfort Tiffany, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein and legions of Civil War soldiers.

Charap was set to give a presentation about Green-Wood’s arboretum management plan at a Community Board 7 meeting on Feb. 20, but the meeting was cancelled because of snowy weather.

His presentation will be rescheduled.

Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

Updated Feb. 28 at 10:50 a.m. with additional information. 

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