Plant Talk | Science Talk

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.

A Catchy Phrase, But is It True?

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on February 10th, 2017 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. Richard Abbott, Ph.D., is a botanist at the Botanical Garden, where he works primarily on updating the Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada.


Acer pseudoplatanus Frank Vincentz

Acer pseudoplatanus by Frank Vincentz

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue unless you are familiar with scientific terminology. However, what appears to be a somewhat intimidating phrase is actually marvelously succinct and elegant.

Ontogeny is “the development or course of development, especially of an individual organism.” This could refer to the development of a plant from embryo to seed to seedling to mature, reproductive plant. Or it could refer to an animal growing from an embryo into an infant and then into an adult. 

Phylogeny is “the evolutionary history of a genetically related group of organisms, as distinguished from the development of the individual organism.” Sometimes these relationships are illustrated as trees of information, with groups of closely related organisms called clades. Studying and depicting shared evolutionary history is known as cladistics. Have you seen Darwin’s tree of life

If so, then you understand the basic idea of phylogeny. It’s all about the study of relationships.

Recapitulate means “to repeat the principal stages or phases.” For most, this is perhaps the most recognizable word of the trio. Actually, it is the namesake of recapitulation theory.

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After 248 Years, Still Fresh as a Daisy

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on February 3rd, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

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


Capt Cook SpecimenPress. Dry. Mount.

That’s the basic process for turning a plant into a research specimen that will last indefinitely, and it’s stayed the same for hundreds of years for a good reason: It works.

As proof, here’s a member of the daisy family that botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander clipped in January 1769 in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. They were part of the scientific team aboard the HMS Endeavour on Captain James Cook’s first voyage around the world. This 248-year-old specimen, still holding onto its leaves and retaining most of its color, is now part of the collection of 7.8 million preserved plants in NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, the second largest in the world.
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NYBG Facts: Cinchona

Posted in Videos and Lectures on January 6th, 2017 by Matt Newman – Be the first to comment

Deep in the Haupt Conservatory‘s upland rain forest house stands an unassuming tree with a rich history—one that involves one of the most significant medical discoveries of the last century. From the forests of South America to the ships of the British Navy, and even your favorite cocktail, the cinchona’s been making waves for decades.

Find out more about this eminently useful tree in our latest series, NYBG Facts!

Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon 2017

Posted in Events on December 28th, 2016 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office.


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On Wednesday, January 25, 2017, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., the LuEsther T. Mertz Library will host a Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon focused on creating and enhancing articles for Women in Science.  Specifically, we will be highlighting female scientists.

This NYBG Edit-A-Thon is a part of a week of Wikipedia editing events hosted by the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL).  Other participating institutions include Mt. Cuba Center and the University of New Mexico.  The theme for this series of Edit-A-Thons is “Plants and People.”  At NYBG, library staff has elected to focus on creating biographical Wikipedia articles for women who work within several areas of botany—ethnobotany, taxonomy, and plant collecting.

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Top 10: The Best Popular-Science Books of 2016

Posted in Books: Past and Present on December 22nd, 2016 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at the New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office.


Many exciting science books were published in 2016, including an enormous number of more specialized botanical texts. But of all the excellent titles intended for a general audience, a few stood out in particular for me. Here are my favorite popular-science books of the year.

Botanicum (Welcome to the Museum)Art & Art History

Botanicum (Welcome to the Museum) catches the eye immediately, its cover adorned with botanical illustrations.  Illustrator Katie Scott has breathed contemporary life into her botanical illustrations with an art nouveau-like aesthetic that manages to recall historic botanical illustration styles. Author Kathy Willis has divided the text into “galleries,” titled The first plants; Trees; Palms and cycads; Herbaceous plants; Grasses, cattails, sedges, and rushes; Orchids and bromeliads; and Adapting to environments. This is a beautiful book for casual plant lovers as well as those who are already passionate about botany and botanical art.

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A Conversation about Plant Conservation in the Modern Era

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 9th, 2016 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

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


In Defense of PlantsIn the effort to conserve the planet’s biodiversity, plants tend to be overlooked. People spend much more time and money on “charismatic” species of animals. For instance, 100 percent of the world’s known threatened and endangered animals have been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the most important global institution when it comes to evaluating such threats. But only assessed about five percent of plants have been assessed.

It’s a scary state of affairs, especially considering that so-called biodiversity hotspots are defined by their vascular flora.

The New York Botanical Garden is working to improve awareness and understanding about the botanical world. That was one of the topics when Matt Candeias of the blog and podcast “In Defense of Plants” interviewed Dr. Brian Boom who, among his other responsibilities at the Botanical Garden, is the Garden’s Vice President for Conservation Strategy.

To listen to their discussion about Dr. Boom’s career and how he became so passionate about plant conservation in the modern world, click here

Stressed Out: How will Vietnam’s Unique Flat-Leaved Pine Respond to Climate Change?

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 2nd, 2016 by Stephanie Schmiege – Be the first to comment

Stephanie Schmiege, a Ph.D. candidate at the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program of The New York Botanical Garden and at the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology of Columbia University, is researching response of conifers to environmental stress under the direction of Drs. Dennis Stevenson and Kevin Griffin.


Looking out over Vietnam’s Central Highlands from the field station at Bidoup Nui Ba National Park

Looking out over Vietnam’s Central Highlands from the field station at Bidoup Nui Ba National Park

The unique flattened leaf morphology of Pinus krempfii.

The unique flattened leaf morphology of Pinus krempfii.

The Central Highlands of Vietnam are home to the world’s only known flat-leaved pine. Endemic to this area, Pinus krempfii was first discovered by French botanists, who were astounded by its unique leaves and even confused it with species from an entirely different family. Not only is it the only known pine with flat leaves, it is the only pine we know of that successfully survives in dense tropical forests. Scientists think that the flattened leaves may allow Pinus krempfii to absorb more light than most needle-leaved pines, which in turn facilitates its success in the tropics. However, flattened leaves require vulnerable tissues to transport water throughout the leaves. 

This trade-off may leave Pinus krempfii susceptible to changes in climate, particularly drought stress. Climate models for Southeast Asia forecast increasingly long dry periods. How will Pinus krempfii respond to increasing drought stress? Will the unique leaves that have assisted its survival in the tropics prove to be its undoing?

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