Plant Talk | Science Talk

Science IRL: Leaf and STEM

Posted in Videos and Lectures on February 4th, 2016 by Lansing Moore – Be the first to comment

Science IRL at the New York Botanical GardenIn the latest video from Science IRL, Molly returns to NYBG’s Pfizer lab to get up close and personal with a cycad specimen. Dennis Stevenson, Ph.D., and Dario Cavaliere, MA, reveal the vasculature in a cycad’s stem with dye, and in observing the pattern can then recognize the same species in fossils. Think of this installment as a survey of the anatomical approach, versus last week’s investigation of the genetic approach, to biodiversity studies.

Watch the video below, and check out more on Science IRL’s YouTube channel!

Watch an NYBG Scientist Create a PCR, IRL

Posted in Cool Scientist Tech, Videos and Lectures on January 21st, 2016 by Lansing Moore – Be the first to comment

Science IRLHere at NYBG we strive to bring the world of botanical science to the public, so we were thrilled to welcome brand-new web series Science IRL to shoot a video and offer viewers a glimpse into the daily work of NYBG scientists. Our own Gregory M. Plunkett, Ph.D., Director and Curator of the Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics, leads host Molly Edwards through the steps of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a fundamental part of our ongoing work in molecular science. As Dr. Plunkett and other scientists here at NYBG continue exploring the world’s biodiversity, identifying new species and examining how they are related to others, a PCR is a process that allows them to isolate a specific piece of DNA and create millions of copies.

Further explanation can be found in this video, which follows each step of a PCR. Watch below, and check out Science IRL’s other videos in the series on YouTube!

UPDATE: Part 2 of this episode is now live! Click through to see a phylogenetic tree generated from the DNA sample.

Myanmar by the Numbers

Posted in Travelogue on January 11th, 2016 by Kate Armstrong – Be the first to comment

Kate Armstrong, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at The New York Botanical Garden whose research focuses on the flora of Southeast Asia. Damon P. Little, Ph.D., is Assistant Curator of Bioinformatics in the Botanical Garden’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics.

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Myanmar is a major biodiversity hotspot, yet its flora is probably the least studied in the Northern Hemisphere. As the country emerges from decades of isolation and political upheaval, The New York Botanical Garden is working to document Myanmar’s undiscovered plant life, build the country’s capacity to carry out plant research, and promote the sustainable use of its forests.

We recently returned from a collecting expedition to Hkakaborazi National Park in Kachin State, which borders China. The park, in the far northern part of the country, covers nearly 1,500 square miles of mountainous forest.

To reach it, we first flew to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. From there, we took a turboprop to Putao, the northernmost town in Kachin State, and then motorcycles to a small village. After that, we walked.
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Great Big Story: World Flora Online in the Spotlight

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 29th, 2015 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

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

Enid A. Haupt ConservatoryIt’s a great big story, all right.

CNN’s new online video unit, called Great Big Story, recently reported on The New York Botanical Garden’s work on World Flora Online, a worldwide effort to produce a single, scientifically verified database of information about all of the world’s plant species—an estimated 350,000 of them.

The video captures the activity in the Mounting Room and Digital Imaging Lab of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium as specimens are carefully glued to acid-free paper and then photographed in ultra-high resolution before they are filed in the Steere Herbarium.

There are also stunning images of rain forest and desert plants in the Botanical Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. The variety and beauty of the plants drive home the point made by Dr. Barbara Thiers, the Garden’s Vice President for Science Administration and Director of the Herbarium.

“Plants are endlessly fascinating,” she says in the video. “We have to know what they are and how they differ from one another in order to understand what kind of measures need to be taken to protect them.”

Early Detection, Rapid Response: Applying the Resources of The New York Botanical Garden to an Emerging Invasive Species

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 24th, 2015 by Esther Jackson – Be the first to comment

Esther Jackson is Public Services Librarian in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden.

Corydalis incisa</em (Bobbi Angell, 2015)

Corydalis incisa

Visitors to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library have the chance to see an exhibition centered on an emerging invasive species, Corydalis incisa, or incised fumewort.

This display, on view in the Rare Book Room window, arose from a collaboration between the Mertz Library and the Science Department. In preparation for last month’s Invasive Species Summit, staff brainstormed ways to use the Library’s display space to offer a compelling supplement to the programming of the Summit itself. Rather than displaying items from the Library’s collection illustrating unrelated invasive species, a more powerful exhibition would offer the narrative of one invasive—Corydalis incisaCorydalis incisa is an emerging invasive that Garden staff have studied and monitored for several years.

Daniel Atha, NYBG Conservation Program Manager, first wrote about Corydalis incisa in 2014 here on Science Talk Blog: “A member of the fumitory family, Corydalis incisa … is native to China, Korea, and Japan. It was first discovered growing wild in North America during the 2005 Bronx Park BioBlitz, north of The New York Botanical Garden.”
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Paris Conference Concludes with Accord on Climate Change, Emphasizing a Huge Role for the World’s Forests

Posted in Environment on December 14th, 2015 by Brian Boom – Be the first to comment

Brian M. Boom, Ph.D., is Vice President for Conservation Strategy; Director, NYBG Press and Science Outreach; and Bassett Maguire Curator of Botany at NYBG.

Rio Falsino Brazil Rainforest
As noted in my most recent post, negotiators at the Paris climate conference, known as COP21, emphasized the importance of the role of forests in addressing global warming.

The big news in the resulting accord, signed by 195 countries on December 12, appeared in Article 2 on page 21, which calls for holding the increase in the global average temperature to “well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

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A Biological Strategy for Cooling a Warming Planet

Posted in Environment on December 9th, 2015 by Brian Boom – Be the first to comment

Brian M. Boom, Ph.D., is Vice President for Conservation Strategy; Director, NYBG Press and Science Outreach; and Bassett Maguire Curator of Botany at NYBG.

Part of Myanmar’s Vast Forested Area

Part of Myanmar’s Vast Forested Area

Negotiators at the Paris climate change conference (known as COP21) are in the final stretch of their effort to reach a broad accord to limit carbon emissions. Switching to alternative sources of energy that do not rely on fossil fuels, such as wind, solar, nuclear, and geothermal, is a big component of the debate, alongside controversial approaches to sequestering carbon by means of “geoengineering.”
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As Negotiators Debate Climate Change in Paris, Some Nations Already Feel the Impacts of a Warming World

Posted in Environment on December 4th, 2015 by Brian Boom – Be the first to comment

Brian M. Boom, Ph.D., is Vice President for Conservation Strategy, Director, NYBG Press and Science Outreach, and Bassett Maguire Curator of Botany at NYBG.

Climate changeDelegates at COP 21, the climate change conference in Paris, are debating the implications of global warming under various levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the years 2030, 2050, and beyond, but a subset of those delegates hailing from the South Pacific region are emphasizing that, for their nations, the future of climate change is now, as this recent New York Times story reported. Rising sea levels are threatening to engulf these low-lying islands.

Regular readers of this blog will know that The New York Botanical Garden is deeply engaged in a research and conservation project in the South Pacific, especially in Vanuatu, an island nation with a population of about 225,000 people who are spread over 65 islands and speak more than 113 indigenous languages; for a Science Talk post and short video about NYBG’s research in Vanuatu, see From the Field: A Botany Lesson in Vanuatu.
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Oliver Sacks: A Remembrance

Posted in Personalities in Science on November 25th, 2015 by Robbin Moran – Be the first to comment

Robbin C. Moran, Ph.D., is Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany at NYBG‘s Institute of Systematic Botany. He is an expert on ferns and lycophytes.

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks visiting a titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in 2004. (Photo by Robbin Moran.)

Oliver Sacks, a board member of The New York Botanical Garden, died of cancer at his home in New York City on August 30, 2015. He was 82. Oliver was one of the world’s leading neurologists and science writers, known for his many essays and books such as Awakenings, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Island of the Colorblind, Uncle Tungsten, and Musicophilia. Some of these books, or chapters in them, were adapted for film and/or stage, such as Awakenings (Robin Williams and Robert De Niro), At First Sight (Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino), and The Music Never Stopped (Lou Taylor Pucci and Julia Ormond). Since his death, much has been written about his life, but little has been written about him as a lover of plants, which he indeed was, especially of ferns and cycads.

Oliver developed an interest in plants as a boy. At age six he was evacuated from London to a school in the English Midlands to avoid the Blitz. Separated from his parents and extremely lonely and unhappy, he took solace in holiday visits to his Aunt Len’s place in Cheshire. She had a garden and delighted in explaining its plants to an inquisitive young Oliver. They took long botanizing walks in the forest, stopping frequently to look at ferns and horsetails. These visits to “Auntie Len’s” instilled a love for plants that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
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WeDigBio: Bringing Biological Collections to the World

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on November 20th, 2015 by Science Talk – Be the first to comment

Mari A. Roberts is a Volunteer Coordinator at The New York Botanical Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium. Her work focuses on engaging citizen scientists in the digitization of plant specimens.

wedigbioDid you know that you can volunteer on a global initiative right here at The New York Botanical Garden? That’s what happened last month when 15 volunteers participated in the Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio), making information on biodiversity collections—such as pressed plants, pinned insects, and aquatic species in jars—available online.

WeDigBio was a one-of-a-kind event engaging hundreds of volunteers to transcribe specimens at more than 30 institutions via multiple transcription platforms (DigiVolHebaria @ HomeLes HerbonautesNotes from NatureSmithsonian Institution’s Transcription Center and Symbiota). One goal of WeDigBio was to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity collections and of making them easily available online to researchers worldwide. Thanks to WeDigBio volunteers at The New York Botanical Garden, The National Museum of Natural History, Australian Museum, Florida State University and dozens of other institutions, data on more than 31,000 biological specimens will be available for researchers, graduate students and even citizen scientists!

Biodiversity collections held in universities, natural history museums and herbaria are physical representations of our planet’s life forms and biological processes. Plant specimens are collected in the field and then stored in a herbarium, where they can remain for hundreds of years. However, collections are not easily accessible to the general public, nor are there digital representations of every specimen.

“Never has it been more important for museums to open their specimen cabinet doors to the public,” says Austin Mast, a WeDigBio organizer and Associate Professor of Biological Science at Florida State University. “Everyone should have the chance to see the rich textures of life on Earth in these collections. Public participation of this sort helps science bring those rich textures into sharper focus.”

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The William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the Botanical Garden is one of 3,400 herbaria in the world and holds 7.8 million specimens that are used by Garden scientists and visiting researchers. To digitize our collections—that is, cataloging them, imaging specimens, and transcribing specimen information—staff and volunteers work on multi-institutional grant-funded projects to target specific areas of the Steere Herbarium’s collections.

For WeDigBio, Garden volunteers captured information about the historical who, what, when, and where of 500 specimens of bryophytes (mosses and their relatives). Bryophytes are model organisms for documenting environmental change because they take up atmospheric nutrients in their environment. By studying these sensitive indicators in historic and recent collections, scientists can address research questions concerning the change in species distributions after man-made environmental events such as climate change, air pollution, and habitat destruction.


Interested in volunteering? You don’t have to wait until WeDigBio 2016! There are opportunities in the Steere Herbarium year round. Help us discover vital information in our rich collection of plant specimens and contribute to our cause of preserving biodiversity.

For volunteer opportunities in the Herbarium, contact Mari Roberts at