Photo: Andreana Bitsis

Teatown Lake Reservation’s “Wildflower Island” Made It Hard To Let Go of Summer

Wildflower Island is an excellent, if quick, getaway from the stressors that come with the daily grind.  The two-acre island is under the care of Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining, NY, whose workers maintain over 230 native species of wildflowers and shrubs. Trained volunteer tour guides lead groups around the island on the weekends, educating them about all the plant varieties– a lineage steeped in New York history.

Wildflower island was created in the 1920s by Gerard Swope, Sr., and was actually an accident. Swope flooded the wetland beneath his horse barn, inundating the land that would become Wildflower Island with water. A longtime member of Teatown’s Board of Trustees, Louise Malsin came to love the wildflowers growing on the island dearly, and after her death in 1981, Arthur Malsin, her husband, decided to dedicate his time to Wildflower Island. He oversaw construction of the bridge and gatehouse and spent the rest of his life tirelessly watching over the island, which today offers a beautiful, natural getaway within close proximity to Manhattan.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis

Recently, I paid a visit to Wildflower Island and went on one of their tours, which I found to be an extremely enjoyable, relaxing experience– after we finally reached the place! Make sure to get directions before you set out, as the roads are a little confusing in the area; my father and I got lost on the way because the GPS sent us to the wrong place.

The experience went smoothly once we arrived at Teatown, though, and it was all worth it. It really helped that the tour group was extremely small: just the tour guide, another woman, my father, and me– so we got to ask plenty of questions. Teatown’s mission is to inspire the community to lifelong environmental stewardship, which makes for a very charming experience, from the gates to the bridge leading to the island, which had decorative flower designs incorporated into the bars, to the walking bridge we crossed over to get to the island itself. Upon stepping off the bridge, we became engulfed in the shade of the island’s trees, surrounded by nature on all sides. Listening to bullfrog croaks instead of honking horns was something nearly magical– I was forced to bend and twist to walk through some sections where the plants encroached on the dirt path, which only added to the feeling of truly being outdoors. Those interested in visiting from the city should be sure to bring a camera, because there are just too many flowers worth remembering.

On my trip, some of the flowers in bloom included pickerelweed, meadowsweet, tall meadow-rue, spotted joe-pye weed, and downy rattlesnake plantain– to name just a few. Teatown publishes bloom lists periodically throughout the season, so you have the chance to see something different every time you go to the island. A particularly interesting plant that I saw in August was lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus), a plant which curls in the fashion of its namesake– which is a funny shape. The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and provided plenty of commentary and fun facts throughout, such as: it’s possible to identify many ferns by their spores, that wild ginger smells awful (which makes it great for ants who love a rotting smell) and that princess pine is highly flammable.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis

Towards the end of our visit, my tour guide actually spotted a huge, crane-like bird preening on a nearby island on Teatown Lake, at which we got to take a close-up look using our tour guide’s binoculars. After a little over an hour of meandering amongst the blooms, our tour came to an end. My father and I had other things to attend to, but for visitors with more time, Teatown Lake Reservation also sports a bird blind and fishing on the lake. For those looking to get a jump on next year’s visiting season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a day trip from New York City better than this when it opens in April. Wildflower Island is now closed for the season, but it feels like a hidden jewel– an eternal slice of summertime worth remembering for next year.

For more information on Wildflower Island, visit Teatown Lake Reservation’s website

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