A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (Brooklyn), I got lunch with one of our Gristmill readers, Marielle Anzelone, who works as a botanist for the city of New York. We talked for well over an hour. I learned more about plants, invasive species, urban ecology, and biodiversity than I could possibly remember, so I recorded the conversation and pledged to transcribe it and blog about all the cool stuff Anzelone shared with me. I mean, prior to our conversation, the only plants I knew of in New York were the ones that generated power, so I was pretty into this interview. And then I … came back to Seattle and put off transcribing it. And then I put it off some more. And then when I finally got to it, most of the conversation was hard to hear over the chatter in the café. Blast.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about some of the cool native plant work going on in the city thanks to Anzelone. In addition to her work as a botanist for New York City’s Parks Department, she also runs a website, Drosera, she’s planned and designed the Native Plant Display Garden at Union Square Park, and she’s been helping get more native plants into the city’s Greenmarkets. Right now, she’s organizing Wildflower Week in New York, which will happen next May.

Her passion lies in the everyday plants that are around us even in the most urban settings, the small, native species that are often overlooked in the land of sidewalks and subways. Her graduate work focused on rare and endangered plant species in New Jersey (my motherland), and she’s been working to get some respect for the oft-overlooked species of the world.

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“People care about the whale, they care about elephants and gorillas, but there’s all this stuff going on around them,” said Anzelone. “People care about the Amazon rainforest, but there’s a lot across the street from you, and that gets developed, too.”

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And that lot might be home to a rare, native species, and for all you or I know, it could be the last of its kind. Maybe it could cure cancer. Maybe some native animal munches on it. Or maybe it just smells good and looks pretty.

“People are concerned about global warming — people are obsessed with it, and it’s really great. People are concerned about how we’re going to lose things in the next 30 years, but we’re losing things today, which has nothing to do with global warming.”

Be sure to check out Anzelone’s site for more on urban ecology and what’s going down in NYC.

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