Plant Talk | Science Talk

NYBG Science Interns: Learning a Field, Making a Contribution

Posted in Learning Experiences on September 25th, 2014 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is The New York Botanical Garden’s Science Media Manager.


Chelsea Fowler

Internships may seem like a summer-only opportunity to gain exposure to a field and make a contribution to a project, but that’s not the case at The New York Botanical Garden’s Science Division. We have interns here during all four seasons, performing important work and learning plant science firsthand from our researchers.

NYBG science internships are such a great opportunity that the program has been cited as one of New York City’s coolest internship programs.

One of our volunteer summer interns, Chelsea Fowler, a biology student at the University of Tampa, wrote about her recent experience working in the Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium on a project that is part of the effort to digitize the Steere Herbarium’s 7.4 million preserved plant specimens. This post is from the iDigBio Web site, a national resource for information about digitized natural history collections. Our thanks to the Florida Museum of Natural History, where the Web site is based, for permission to repost Chelsea’s story.

New Additions to a Prized Mushroom’s Family Tree

Posted in New Plant Discoveries on September 16th, 2014 by Roy Halling – Be the first to comment

Roy E. Halling, Ph.D., is Curator of Mycology in The New York Botanical Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany. Among his primary research interests is the bolete (or porcini) family of mushrooms, especially those found in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Boletus austroedulis

Boletus austroedulis

The true porcini mushroom is well-known as a prized edible mushroom. Boletus edulis, as it is known scientifically, has a common name in just about every country where it has been found. Steinpilz, cep, penny bun, king bolete, panza, prawdziwek, and pravi virganj are just a few. Often viewed as “wild crafted,” it can’t be cultivated and grown artificially; it is only found in nature.

Recently, we’ve learned more about the family lineage of this tasty fungus. By analyzing DNA gene sequences, my colleague Dr. Bryn Dentinger at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew identified two relatives that are species new to science. We and four other colleagues have just described these species in Mycologia (July/August 2014).
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Queen of the Amazon

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on August 13th, 2014 by Scott Mori – Be the first to comment

Scott A. Mori, Ph.D., is the Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Francisca Coelho is the Vivian and Edward Merrin Vice President for Glasshouses and Exhibitions.

Victoria Amazonica

Victoria amazonica in its native habitat along the Amazon River.

In a post on Plant Talk, Scott described the fascinating life cycle of the Amazon water lily. But how did this iconic Amazonian species receive its scientific name, and how did this popular late-summer attraction come to be cultivated so far from its native habitat at major botanical gardens such as The New York Botanical Garden?

The Amazon water lily was discovered by Eduard Friedrich Poeppig in Peru and, because he thought it was related to an eastern Asian water lily belonging to the genus Euryale, he named it Euryale amazonica in 1836. The species was rediscovered by the German botanist Robert Hermann Schomburgk on a botanical expedition supported by Great Britain to what was then known as British Guiana. Schomburgk shipped his detailed notes, drawings, and collections to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where John Lindley described the species as Victoria regia in 1837 in honor of Queen Victoria.
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What Is A Fruit?

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories, Uncategorized on August 6th, 2014 by Lawrence Kelly – Be the first to comment

Lawrence M. Kelly, Ph.D., is Director of Graduate Studies at The New York Botanical Garden. His research focuses on the evolution and classification of flowering plants.


Developing fruit (ovary) at the center of a Yucca flower

Despite the year-round availability of most produce, few things say summer like a juicy, vine-ripened tomato from the garden or a produce stand. You can slice them, dice them, and use them in stews, sauces, and salads. They’re one of the most versatile of vegetables. Or are they?

Is a tomato a vegetable, as most people think it is, or is it really a fruit? In general terms, fruits are usually sweet and vegetables are savory. Fruits are usually eaten as dessert, and vegetables as a main course. Fruits are often succulent and edible when raw. More technical dictionary definitions recognize a fruit as an edible reproductive body of a plant. In contrast, vegetables are usually defined much more broadly, for example as an edible part of a plant, or they are defined by example, such as in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, which cites cabbages, beans, and potatoes.

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Rediscovering an “Extinct” Carrot

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on July 30th, 2014 by Gregory Plunkett – Be the first to comment

Gregory M. Plunkett, Ph.D., is Director and Curator of the Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics at The New York Botanical Garden. One of his major research interests is the carrot family, the Umbelliferae.

An "extinct" carrot

The flowers of Asteriscium novarae

Carrots and their wild relatives, Queen Anne’s Lace, are a familiar part of our life, whether at the green-grocer or along summer-time roadsides. But the carrot family (Umbelliferae) is a huge group of nearly 4,000 species, including many familiar sources of food, spices, and medicines, such as parsnips, celery, parsley, fennel, dill, caraway, cilantro, coriander, and anise. Most are found in northern temperate areas of Eurasia and North America, but there is a smaller subgroup of the carrot family centered in the Andean region of South America, extending from the alpine páramos of Colombia and Venezuela to the cold, windswept grasslands of Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile and Argentina.
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NYBG Grad Students: Annie Virnig

Posted in NYBG Grad Students on July 17th, 2014 by Matt Newman – Be the first to comment

Annie VirnigAnnie Virnig is no stranger to tackling formidable challenges. Whether she’s hiking through the dense tropical forests of Colombia in search of rare plant species, noting her findings in the laboratory, or blocking a header on the soccer field, she employs the same diligence and problem-solving tactics to ensure the best possible result.

As a grad student at NYBG, Virnig’s work focuses on the neotropical blueberries that so often cause a stir in our Haupt Conservatory. The exotic shapes and colors of the Conservatory’s collection are only a small sample of their incredible diversity in South America, where the wealth of species goes well beyond the common blueberries, cranberries, and huckleberries that we associate with this plant tribe in the U.S. Zoning in on the historic and cultural uses of these plants, as well as the antioxidants and other health benefits provided by them, Virnig has found herself drawn to the town of El Queremal in Colombia, where an eponymous flower has captured imaginations for centuries.
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Rockefeller Center: Botanical History Underfoot

Posted in Nuggets from the Archives on July 11th, 2014 by Lisa Vargues – Be the first to comment

Lisa Vargues is a Curatorial Assistant at The New York Botanical Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium. Her work includes digitizing plant specimens, historical and new, from around the world for the C. V. Starr Virtual Herbarium and writing for the NYBG Press.

While admiring Rockefeller Center’s renowned attractions, such as the famous 1934 gilded sculpture of Prometheus, it is easy to miss an inconspicuous reminder of the site’s importance in American botanical history. Looking toward the middle of Rockefeller Center’s Channel Gardens, directly behind a bronze sculpture of a sea nymph riding a fish, you will find the following plaque:

Hosack Plaque

The land now occupied by Rockefeller Center was once the location of the Elgin Botanic Garden, the first botanical garden in New York State and one of the earliest in the United States. It was established by Dr. David Hosack in 1801 and is often referred to as a forerunner of The New York Botanical Garden. Dr. Hosack, who tended Alexander Hamilton’s fatal wound following his duel with Aaron Burr, was a highly regarded physician and Columbia College professor of botany and materia medica. He created the Elgin Botanic Garden, named after his father’s birthplace in Scotland, primarily to teach his students botany and the medicinal properties of plants.
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Detecting an Invasive Plant Before It’s Too Late

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on July 3rd, 2014 by Daniel Atha – Be the first to comment

Daniel Atha is a Research Associate at The New York Botanical Garden. Jessica Schuler is Director of the Botanical Garden’s Thain Family Forest. Sarah Lumban Tobing is a Project Manager for Forestry, Horticulture and Natural Resources at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Purple keman (Corydalis incisa)

Purple keman (Corydalis incisa)

The latest threat to our local environment comes from an Asian plant that resembles wild chervil when young and has the potential to out-compete native species.

A member of the fumitory family, Corydalis incisa, or purple keman, 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.

A rapid survey of the same area in May revealed populations on both sides of the Bronx River and extending throughout the annual floodplain, consisting of both first-year seedlings and second-year flowering and fruiting plants. Within one heavily infested area, 32 seedlings were counted in an area of 100 square centimeters (a little more than 15 square inches).

Also this year, we found a previously undocumented infestation, 7.5 miles northeast in the Bronx River Reservation of Westchester County, representing the second known population in North America and the first report of the species for Westchester County.  The sighting was immediately reported to Westchester County Parks Department and we are now working with Brenda Bates of the Conservation Division to document and monitor the plants.
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Why Study Plants?

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on June 30th, 2014 by Lawrence Kelly – Be the first to comment

Lawrence M. Kelly, Ph.D., is Director of Graduate Studies at The New York Botanical Garden; Barbara A. Ambrose, Ph.D., is Cullman Assistant Curator in Plant Genomics; and Dennis W. Stevenson, Ph.D., is Vice President for Laboratory Research.

Microscopic green alga Spirogyra, with its spirally arranged chloroplasts. Photograph from the Delwiche lab.

Microscopic green alga Spirogyra, with its spirally arranged chloroplasts. Photograph from the Delwiche lab.

Plants produce 98 percent of atmospheric oxygen through photosynthesis. Everything we eat comes directly or indirectly from plants. One quarter of prescription drugs come directly from plants or are plant derivatives. Fossilized plants provide energy in the form of fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

Given the importance of plants in every aspect of our lives, humans study plants to understand processes that are critical to our own survival and to the health of the planet. Beyond their obvious importance, plants have played key roles in a broad range of biological discoveries that have helped us understand some of the most fascinating mysteries of life.
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Inside the Steere Herbarium

Posted in Videos and Lectures on June 12th, 2014 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is The New York Botanical Garden’s Science Media Manager.

The William & Lynda Steere Herbarium

The William & Lynda Steere Herbarium

One of the most important research facilities at The New York Botanical Garden is the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, but unless you’re a plant scientist or seriously interested in botany, chances are you’re unfamiliar with what a herbarium is and why it’s crucial to the task of understanding and conserving Earth’s plant life.

Simply put, a herbarium is a library of plants—7.3 million preserved plant specimens, in the case of the Steere Herbarium. That makes it the largest herbarium in the Western Hemisphere and one of the four largest in the world.

But what can researchers learn from all those specimens? How do they use the knowledge stored there? How was the Steere Herbarium founded, and does it contain just the things that average people think of as plants—trees, flowers and shrubs? What about seaweed, moss, lichens and mushrooms?
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