Three Gowanus Trees

The Valley of the Shadow of the Gowanus, as I like to call it, is the lowland between the ridge of Brooklyn Heights and the Harbor Hill Moraine. The western slope of Park Slope and the eastern slope of Punkiesburg (Cobble Hill) used to drain down into the marshy Gowanus creek, thought to have been named after a native American by European settlers. In the colonial era, the creek and Wallabout Bay to the north pinched off Brooklyn Heights, making for a strategic passive defense for the glorious retreat of the Americans in the Battle of Brooklyn in August, 1776. The 1.5 mile Gowanus Canal, the great greasy green Gowanus, completed in 1869, turned the area into an industrial zone. Nearly a century of toxins resulted in what is now a Superfund site.But… silktrees, Albizia julibrissin, sometimes called mimosa, are blooming now on Union Street. This species is native to southern Asia from Iran to Japan. Persian silktree is another of its common name.Starting out as a big weed, the tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, the tree of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Anywhere in Brooklyn. Everywhere in Brooklyn. A native of China and Taiwan. The largest leaves in town? Royal paulownia, Paulownia tormentosa, also starts off a weedy-looking thing. Native to China and Korea.

All three of these trees were originally imported to plant in gardens and parks. They took on a life of their own, though, and have become naturalized.Ailanthus, paulownia, and silktree fighting it out at the Union Street Bridge over the canal. They are all growing out of the soil covering a fuel bunker, and squeezing through the fence.

5 Responses to “Three Gowanus Trees”


  1. 1 The Backyard Gardener October 18, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Albizia Julibrissin is a stunning tree and I almost never see it in NY so thank you for sharing this observation. Stink trees are everywhere though.. I can’t walk a block without seeing several Ailanthus Altissimas. Have you noticed hummingbirds on the Julibrissin fluffy flowers? They love ’em.


  1. 1 Tough Trees! | Gowanus Your Face Off Trackback on July 11, 2011 at 4:08 am
  2. 2 Gowanus Fish « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on August 11, 2011 at 7:20 am
  3. 3 Three Heart-Shaped Leaves « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on February 14, 2012 at 8:17 am

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