New York City tends to be associated with glitzy skyscrapers and glimmering lights, but it’s also extraordinary for its wildflowers. Native plants abound in all five boroughs, and you can vote for your favorite local wildflower in this fun new contest.
Then, if all goes well, the winner will become NYC’s official wildflower. Voting is now open and runs until November 7; keep scrolling to meet the candidates.
Botanist Marielle Anzelone is the director of NYC Wildflower Week, a nonprofit she founded with experience working in the city’s parks department. She’s running Vote WildflowerNYC with hopes the contest will encourage New Yorkers to pay attention and feel invested in the city’s greenery and environmental issues.
“New York City has a lot of nature,” Anzelone says. Even Manhattan, she adds, isn’t just a monument to the built environment.
“I try to teach New Yorkers about nature, but plants specifically, and why it’s important. So much research has shown how being in nature makes people joyful,” she says.
Plus, we need nature. New York City’s native plants are essential to our ecosystems, providing us with fresh air, pollinated foods, climate regulation and more.
She teamed up with organizations across the city, asking each to nominate a native-to-NY wildflower for their borough. Once the winner is crowned, Anzelone will present it to City Council asking them to make it official. She also hopes to parlay this initiative into a more robust biodiversity policy, as she said NYC is the only global city without one.
Meet the candidates
Nominated by: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn
Beloved by butterflies and hummingbirds, Wild Columbine is known for its wiry stems with blue-green foliage and dazzling red-and-yellow flowers.
“We love its unique scarlet drooping flower, its five petals evoking the five boroughs,” Rashid Poulson, director of horticulture for Brooklyn Bridge Park, said in a statement. “Columbine’s nectar helps fuel the spring migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird. This ecological kinship is something we’re always excited to observe at the Park—one of many critical connections between local wildlife and our city’s greenspaces.”
Nominated by: Staten Island Museum, Staten Island
This versatile plant works hard all year long with blossoms supporting pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. In the spring, it shows off with pink blooms. In the summer, its smooth leaves invite leaf-cutter bees, which chew small circular pieces to help build their nests. In autumn, it’s decorated in richly colored reds, golds and mauves.
“Did you know that Staten Island is the only borough that already has an official wildflower? In the 1980s, Staten Islanders voted for the Pinxter Azalea to represent our borough and we are proud to support it!” said Colleen Evans, director of natural science at the Staten Island Museum. “One of our native azaleas, Pinxter Azalea grows wild throughout the city, and is especially abundant in Staten Island’s Greenbelt.”
Nominated by: New York Botanical Garden, Bronx
This yellow bloom welcomes spring, brightening up the woods with floral cheer when little else is blooming yet. Its delicate clusters look almost like a pointillism painting. When fall arrives, this ubiquitous shrub treats our eyes to its golden glow once again. A critical part of the forest understory, swallowtail butterflies love this popular plant.
“Spicebush has long been a part of the history of Eastern North America, and it’s particularly close to our hearts here in the Bronx, where in early spring you’ll spot its abundant flowers punctuating the trails of our old-growth Thain Forest with clouds of gentle yellow petals,” noted James Boyer, vice president of children’s education and senior director of education at NYBG. “Its intriguing name comes from the spicy aroma that arises from the crushed leaves.”
Nominated by: Queens Botanical Garden, Queens
Perhaps the best-known wildflower in the field, this particular genus is known for its resilience and showy yellow flowers. Sunflowers also feed the multitudes, providing sustenance for many bees, birds, butterflies, beetles, and humans. Sunflowers also provide shelter for wildlife, as they grow well in moist meadows and salt marsh edges.
“Sunflowers radiate joy and burst with sunshine no matter where you see them in our city,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, executive director of Queens Botanical Garden. “Although the Helianthus giganteus species, a.k.a. Giant Sunflower, is a native one, the sunflower genus includes plants from all over the world. Because sunflowers are so internationally recognized and hold different meanings across cultures, we felt Giant Sunflowers captured the power of New York City’s diversity and how we are all interconnected.”
Nominated by: The High Line, Manhattan
The High Line nominated butterfly weed because they say it emulates everything a good New Yorker should be: resilient, brash yet warm, a generous multitasker, and capable of thriving in many environments. The plant supplies nectar for many pollinators and beneficial insects while serving as a host plant for milkweed bugs and the globally endangered Monarch butterfly. You can’t miss its bright orange flower clusters in the summertime.
“We love Butterfly Milkweed because it so successfully represents the unique aspects of the High Line’s naturalistic gardens: colorful beauty, ecological function, and four-season interest,” said Richard Hayden, director of horticulture for Friends of the High Line. “Choosing Butterfly Milkweed also allows us to highlight the importance of milkweeds to the story of the monarch butterfly; milkweeds are the only plants that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on. Since monarchs were recently designated as globally endangered, planting more native milkweeds is one thing the public can do to help these iconic insects make a home in New York City.”
The campaign recommends taking a walk to reconnect with nature every week. If you want to meet up with fellow nature enthusiasts, NYC Wildflower Week hosts free plant walks to see local flora in person; here’s the schedule.
Also keep an eye out for the Vote WildflowerNYC team who will visit civic groups, schools, community boards and neighborhood businesses during the campaign.