Throughout the nineteenth century, farming was one of the most significant industries on Staten Island. By the turn of the twentieth century, the number of farms on the Island began to greatly diminish. Nonetheless, German immigrant Henry William Dietrich Mohlenhoff decided to relocate from his farmland in Queens to Staten Island, where he purchased thirty-two acres of land. On this land, he and his wife established a farm. The couple had one dozen children, all of whom worked on the farm with their parents. Even as the sons married, they would erect their own homes on the property so that they could still work on the farm.
In 1928, Staten Island farmers began to grow flowers in greenhouses to ease the air pollution. The Mohlenhoff farm began to do so in the 1930s, when they had many greenhouses erected on the property. By the middle of the twentieth century, almost an acre of land on the farm was taken up by greenhouses. At that time, the farming of produce on Staten Island was becoming insignificant, and so the family ceased the production of such plants. From that point on, they produced only flowers and the like.
By the end of the twentieth century, descendants of Henry Mohlenhoff began to sell the farmland, though some of the land was still used for the same industry. At that time, Carl Mohlenhoff, the grandson of Henry Mohlenhoff, began to work for the Greenbelt Native Plant Center.
The Greenbelt Native Plant Center was formed around the same time that the Mohlenhoff descendants began to sell their land. Richard Lynch and Nancy Slowik, two employees of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, had spoken to Greenbelt Administrator Tom Paulo regarding their concerns about a significant decrease in flora native to Staten Island. Together with Tom Paulo, the two created the first native plant nursery on Staten Island.
The group first worked out of a vacant building at High Rock Park, but it proved to be too small for the project. Next, they began to work out of an abandoned nursery at the corner of Richmond Avenue and Travis Avenue. It was here that Carl Mohlenhoff was employed.
At the end of the 1980s, a little more than twelve acres of the Mohlenhoff farm, which included a number of greenhouses, went up on the market. Realizing that their nursery was once again too small for their work, the group purchased the Mohlenhoff farm with funding from the New York City Department of Sanitation. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the nursery began to be operated by the Greenbelt Conservancy. Today, however, the Greenbelt Native Plant Center is operated by the Central Forestry & Horticulture division of New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation.
The Greenbelt Native Plant Center is located not too far from where it stood on the corner of Richmond Avenue and Travis Avenue. It is located on the other side of Freshkills Park, at 3808 Victory Boulevard. The Greenbelt Native Plant Center consists of six greenhouses, a nursery, and a seed bank complex. It provides native seeds and plants for the restoration of not only Staten Island's natural habitats, but those of the rest of New York City, as well. Their inventory includes ferns, forbs, grasses, shrubs, trees, and vines.
The Greenbelt Native Plant Center welcomes both volunteers and interns. Some of the volunteer tasks include cleaning seeds, collecting seeds, preparing soil, researching, sowing seeds, transplanting plants, weeding. The internships vary and can include jobs in the founder seed production area, the native plant propagation area, the nursery yard growing and management area, and the seed collection and seed banking area.