Ed. note: Here at the Garden, we are surrounded by plants and knowledgeable plant people, which means that even the average Garden employee/cubicle dweller tends to soak up a lot of information about how to best care for our plants. To many at the Garden, this immersion, combined with a nascent love of plants plus easy access information has driven us to practice what we preach in the form of tending a windowsill garden. On occasional Wednesdays, we’ll introduce you to some of the Garden’s many windowsill gardeners. We hope you enjoy this look at what our window gardeners grow.
Who are you and what do you do at the Garden?
My name is Douglas Daly and I run one of the departments in the Science Division here called the Institute of Systematic Botany. I am also responsible for the aspects of our research programs that relate to the flora of the Amazon region.
What kind of plants do you have in your windowsill garden?
Any plants that are going to make it in my windows have to be tough and irrepressible, that is, they have to want to grow there, because I’m not going to pamper them. Here they get bread and water, minus the bread …
Any good stories about where the plants come from?
I have an oversize cycad native to Mexico called Dioon spinosa; somebody gave me a seed about 25 years ago and now it rules one corner of my inner office. A corner of the outer office is ruled by a Philodendron that was orphaned during the previous renovation of the Haupt Conservatory; they told me if I could find a way to lug it to my office I could have it. I have a Protium tree I grew from a seed someone brought me from Belize a long time ago; I have cut it back three times and it’s ten feet tall again. Finally, I have some really sad-looking, undersized, droopy San Pedro cactus plants I grew from seeds given to me way back by the late, great botanist Tim Plowman; I keep those for sentimental reasons.
Learned any good windowsill gardening tips while working at the Garden?
Not too much crowding; give a couple of plants some elbow room to strut their stuff. And when you travel, ask Alejandra Vasco (a post-doc here) to look after your plants, because as soon as she touches mine, they all germinate and recover and grow and flower like crazy.
What’s your favorite thing about working at the Garden?
When you work on the identification and classification and conservation of plants, every day is a detective story, full of mysteries, puzzles, hypotheses, some dead ends, some discoveries. What is it? Why? Why does it grow there? How is it related to other species, and what characteristics distinguish them? Is it endangered? What are the most important places to do field work? How can you alert people to their importance? Botanists tend to live to a ripe old age because we can’t afford to die early; there’s too much to do!