Plant Talk | Science Talk

An Inside Look at NYBG’s Time Capsule of Plants

Posted in Videos and Lectures on June 21st, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager for The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of an herbarium specimenIn a new video about The New York Botanical Garden’s world-class herbarium, Assistant Curator Matthew Pace, Ph.D., likens the herbarium to a time capsule that “allows you to go basically anywhere in the world, back in time, and also extrapolate into the future.”

The 7.8 million preserved plant specimens in NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium—the second-largest in the world—capture what the ecosystem of a region was like at a specific point in time. By knowing the environmental conditions that allow a plant species to thrive, it’s possible to make predictions about how it will react in the future.
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Edit-a-thon Update: Expanding Access to Information about Important Women in Plant Science

Posted in Events on June 6th, 2017 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of editathon“Plants and People” was the theme of a Wikipedia edit-a-thon that The New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library hosted in January. Editors and organizers focused on creating and enhancing Wikipedia articles about women in science, specifically biographical articles of female ethnobotanists, plant taxonomists, and plant collectors. For this event, the special collections of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library were used extensively, allowing for analog biographical information about important women in science to be shared with the world through Wikipedia.

This was the second edit-a-thon at NYBG during the past year, and organizers benefited from the expertise and assistance of expert Wikipedia editors from the Wikimedia NYC  chapter. Wikimedia, the foundation that supports the work of Wikipedia and its sister projects worldwide, posted a story about the event, including a video, on its blog.
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Saving the Plants of the World: Celebrating International Day for Biological Diversity

Posted in Applied Science on May 22nd, 2017 by Lawrence Kelly – Be the first to comment

Lawrence M. Kelly, Ph.D., is Associate Vice President for Science Administration and Director of Graduate Studies at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of Saving the Plants of the WorldEvery year on May 22, The New York Botanical Garden joins the global community in celebrating International Day for Biological Diversity. Established in 1993 by the United Nations, this day recognizes international cooperation and commitment to take global action to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss. It is also an outstanding opportunity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues, especially, for us here at NYBG, the issues facing the plant kingdom.

It is no exaggeration to say that without plants, life on Earth would be impossible. Plants provide food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and the raw materials to meet most human needs. Plants make the air we breathe, they create the rain that waters the world, and they are essential for healthy ecosystems. The beauty of plants nurtures our souls and inspires our imaginations. Yet the plant diversity that sustains us is imperiled today as never before in human history. One-third of Earth’s nearly 400,000 plant species are at risk of extinction.
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Unwelcome Import: New Invasive Plant Found at NYBG and in Manhattan

Posted in New Plant Discoveries on May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Atha – Be the first to comment

Daniel Atha is the Director of Conservation Outreach for NYBG’s Center for Conservation Strategy at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of Italian arum

Italian arum (Arum italicum)

Italian arum (Arum italicum) is a European species popular with gardeners because it is shade-tolerant, deer-resistant, and sports lush foliage through the winter months when little else is green. Now, however, it appears to have escaped from cultivation and established itself as an invasive plant in several natural areas in New York City, including The New York Botanical Garden—the latest in a series of invasive plant species that are threatening our native species. 

A low, herbaceous plant related to our native jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), Italian arum forms dense patches and spreads by underground tubers and by seeds encased in bright red fruits attractive to birds. The plants produce several compounds toxic to mammals, including saponins, calcium oxalate, alkaloids, and others. It has become a dangerous pest in the Pacific Northwest and is classified as a Class C noxious weed in Washington State. On Lopez Island, Washington, conservationists have been trying to eliminate a two-acre infestation with little success. The species has shown remarkable resistance to herbicide treatment, and repeated cutting has had no effect.
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A Project as Big as the West: Wrapping Up More Than 80 Years of Intermountain Plant Research

Posted in Books: Past and Present on May 2nd, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager for The New York Botanical Garden.


Intermountain Flora

Tony King (American, b. 1944); Bristlecone 8, 2009
[Pinus longaeva, Intermountain bristlecone pine]
Oil on linen
in Intermountain Flora, Volume Seven

For almost all of their professional careers, Drs. Noel and Patricia Holmgren have explored the vast region between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains—an area the size of Texas encompassing all or parts of seven states—to discover and document its plant life. Their work, and that of their many collaborators, is contained in Intermountain Flora, a monumental, multi-volume work published over the course of 45 years, beginning in 1972.

The New York Botanical Garden Press recently published the last volume in the series, Intermountain Flora, Volume Seven—Potpourri: Keys, History, Authors, Artists, Collectors, Beardtongues, Glossary, Indices. This 312-page supplement is both a history and a guide to the series, which provides authoritative, scientific treatments of nearly 4,000 plant species found in the Intermountain West.
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Roaming the Wilds of Early 19th-Century Manhattan and Beyond—and Taking Notes

Posted in Nuggets from the Archives on April 19th, 2017 by Daniel Atha – Be the first to comment

Daniel Atha is the Director of Conservation Outreach for the Center for Conservation Strategy at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of John Torrey's Portrait

Portrait of John Torrey by David Huntington, 1857. From the collection of Princeton University. Image from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library/The New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden has been a leader in the development of modern methods for the study of phenology, the seasonal changes that plants and animals undergo every year. Beginning in the early 2000s, staff and volunteer citizen scientists have been monitoring changes in leaf, flower, and fruiting times throughout the year and from year to year. The methods and data developed at NYBG were eventually incorporated into the National Phenology Network’s national program, which today includes hundreds of partners and thousands of observers in all 50 states.

The NYBG’s legacy goes back even further—in fact, almost to the founding of the nation. While many of the founding fathers were still alive (and many had homes in and around New York City), a young medical graduate, John Torrey, was roaming the wilds of Manhattan, Brooklyn and nearby New Jersey, documenting pitcher plants, lady slipper orchids, white cedar swamps and many other botanical rarities now found only far to the north in colder, less disturbed habitats. As a scientist and natural historian, Torrey was meticulous about his methods, and he endeavored to broaden the impact of his work by including new and helpful information such as detailed locations and precise flowering times of the plants he found. In 1899, John Torrey’s herbarium and papers passed from Columbia University (where he was a curator) to The New York Botanical Garden.

I have recounted the story of Torrey’s phenological record of plants in and around early 19th century New York for the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), a consortium of research libraries dedicated to digitizing the literature of biodiversity and making it accessible in a global “biodiversity commons.” A digitized copy of his record, which he called Calendarium Florae for the Vicinity of New York, was recently added to the library’s online resources. You can read the BHL post here.

Transplants: Saving the Denizens of a Threatened Coastal Ecosystem

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7th, 2017 by Matt Newman – Be the first to comment

Jessica L. Allen is completing her Ph.D. at the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program at The New York Botanical Garden. James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator in the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens are their primary research interest.


Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Wetlands and dunes in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina (Photo by Dr. James Lendemer)

Lichen transplant methods use a variety of artificial surfaces

Lichen transplant methods use a variety of artificial surfaces

In a previous post, we reported on the discovery of an overlooked biodiversity hotspot located in the vast coastal swamps of eastern North Carolina. While the area was already renowned for its wildness, we discovered that it hosts more lichen species than anywhere else in the Mid-Atlantic. Unfortunately, the factors that likely preserved the wilderness into the present day—endless low-lying swamps are difficult to drain and log—mean that it is now imperiled by rising sea levels associated with climate change. In an area where the elevation is measures in inches, minute increases in sea level mean the difference between old-growth, lichen-rich forests and marshes or open water where lichens cannot survive.

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125 Years of Science and Conservation at NYBG

Posted in Book on March 16th, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager for The New York Botanical Garden.


BrittoniaBy their nature, scientists tend to be forward-looking sorts. As they explore their field of research, one question leads to another question, which, inevitably, leads to yet another question. But a recent issue of Brittonia, a quarterly journal of botanical research published by NYBG Press, casts a backward glance at 125 years of science and conservation at The New York Botanical Garden.

Research has played a major role at The New York Botanical Garden since its founding—by a husband-wife team of plant scientists—in 1891. As Lawrence M. Kelly, Ph.D., the editor of this special issue, writes in an introductory essay, the Botanical Garden’s scientific programs are aimed at describing, documenting, understanding, and preserving plant diversity.
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Celebrating One of the World’s Greatest Plant Research Collections

Posted in Videos and Lectures on March 6th, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager for The New York Botanical Garden.


HerbariumIt’s been called a “national treasure” by the National Science Foundation, but The New York Botanical Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium is hardly a familiar feature of the NYBG landscape for most visitors.

In fact, if they were told that the Steere Herbarium is the second largest research collection of its kind in the world, they might well reply, “What in the World is a Herbarium?”

As it happens, that’s the name of a new NYBG exhibition that showcases the central role that the Herbarium plays in the critically important plant research that takes place behind the scenes every day at NYBG.
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Look Who’s Minding Our Planet

Posted in Videos and Lectures on February 21st, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager for The New York Botanical Garden.


In Look Who’s Minding Our Planet, filmmaker Sara Lukinson explores the visionary partnership between philanthropist Lewis Cullman and The New York Botanical Garden, which has resulted in a world-class plant research program. The scientists in NYBG’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics delve into the evolution of plants, study their genetic make-up, and work to unravel their complex interrelationships.

As this compelling short documentary shows, they are also training the next generation of plant researchers, all with the goal of understanding and preserving the world’s plant life, which makes the rest of life on Earth possible.