By Sarah Smedley Daily Broadsheet
The 16 stately palm trees that grace the Winter Garden add warmth and luster to Battery Park City’s signature indoor space in all seasons. So Lower Manhattan’s favorite hothouse looked distinctly forlorn over the past two weeks when the Washingtonia robusta palms were removed. Perhaps even more surprising were the replacement trees, which looked like babies in comparison.
Tree lovers can relax. Four rows of four new Washingtonia robusta are being replanted during the evening hours by a small army of engineers and landscapers, who drove a 50-foot semi-tractor trailer through the glass entry of the Winter Garden plaza, carrying several palms on an extended flatbed. As some of the workers were preparing the holes with tons of dirt and measuring proper bed-depth, others strapped lines around the tree trunks to steady them as the driver of a cherry-picker delicately maneuvered its paws to hoist the new trees off the flatbed, stand them upright and gently guide them into their new beds.
Brookfield Properties, owner of the Winter Garden and the Brookfield Place complex (formerly known as the World Financial Center) of which it is a part, expects to complete the job by late August. The new palms are being planted in the same positions as the old ones, so the Winter Garden will look the same, albeit with shorter trees, according to Brookfield’s corporate communications manager, Patricia Bertuccio. “The new trees are about 35 feet tall — the same height the former trees were when they were planted in 2002,” said Ms. Bertuccio. “The old trees were about 60 feet tall when we initiated the replacement, so we expect the new trees to grow at a similar rate.”
Brookfield’s landscape architects determined that the old palms had achieved their maximum height under the Winter Garden’s ten-story glass ceiling and had begun to show signs of curvature and twisting. Planted shortly before the Winter Garden reopened, one year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the palms exceeded their normal indoor life, which is generally ten years.
Brookfield says that the trees will be mulched and used as fodder for serenity gardens at local hospitals to honor their role in the Winter Garden, which made it both a place of meeting and a place of reflection.
So Lower Manhattan residents can rest easy under the new canopy of Mexican Fan Palms, another name for Washingtonia robusta, which is also known as Mexican Washingtonia. Native to western Sonora and Baja California Sur in northwestern Mexico, these palms tolerate intense heat and light, making them a natural choice for this warm, bright environment.