Plant Talk | Science Talk

Discovering New Plant Species in the Field—and in the Herbarium, Part Three

Posted in New Plant Discoveries on December 19th, 2014 by Douglas Daly – Be the first to comment

Douglas C. Daly, Ph.D., is the Director of the Institute of Systematic Botany and the B. A. Krukoff Curator of Amazonian Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Among his research activities, he is a specialist in the Burseraceae (frankincense and myrrh) family of plants. Read Part One and Part Two of this series for more information.


This Central American rain forest is one of only two places where Dacryodes patrona, a new tree species described by Dr. Daly, has been found.

This Central American rain forest is one of only two places where Dacryodes patrona, a new tree species described by Dr. Daly, has been found.

In the first post in this series about the process of discovering and describing new plant species, I noted that the average lag time from when a new species is first collected in the field to when its name and description are published is a shocking 35 years. After publication, new species often languish in the herbarium and scientific journals, even if the information they represent has important conservation value. But sometimes we beat these odds by publishing new species in a relatively short time, and having the results makes a difference.
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A Day in the Life of the Bronx River

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 17th, 2014 by Daniel Atha – Be the first to comment

Daniel Atha is a Research Associate at The New York Botanical Garden.


In canoe from left: Elaine Feliciano, NYC Parks, Conservation Crew Leader, Bronx River Alliance and Adam Felber, Bronx River Alliance. In the foreground is common pondweed (Elodea canadensis), one of the native species found.

From left: Elaine Feliciano, NYC Parks, Conservation Crew Leader, Bronx River Alliance and Adam Felber, Bronx River Alliance. Foreground: common pondweed (Elodea canadensis), one of the native species found during the Bronx River Survey.

Plants that grow beneath the surface of streams and other bodies of water are easy to overlook, but they play important roles in aquatic ecosystems. They help clean and oxygenate water, stabilize fragile stream-beds, and provide food and habitat for aquatic and wetland creatures, including insects, fish, and waterfowl.

Examples of submerged aquatic plants include native pondweeds, coontail, and eel-grass. But some species—milfoil, fanwort, curly pondweed, hydrilla, and others—may become invasive, choking waterways, consuming oxygen, and reducing biodiversity.

In August, a team from The New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx River Alliance, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation surveyed the upper reaches of the Bronx River, looking for native and invasive species of submerged aquatic plants. The survey was jointly organized by NYC Parks, the New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program, the Bronx River Alliance, and representatives from other federal, state, city, university, and community organizations.
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Discovering New Plant Species in the Field—and in the Herbarium, Part Two

Posted in New Plant Discoveries on December 12th, 2014 by Douglas Daly – Be the first to comment

Douglas C. Daly, Ph.D., is the Director of the Institute of Systematic Botany and the B. A. Krukoff Curator of Amazonian Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Among his research activities, he is a specialist in the Burseraceae (frankincense and myrrh) family of plants.


The oil-rich fruit of the newly described species Dacryodes urut-kunchae attracts many game animals. (Photo: David Neill)

The oil-rich fruit of the newly described species Dacryodes urut-kunchae attracts many game animals. (Photo: David Neill)

When plant scientists discover new species—as I discussed in the first post of this series—their discovery is often an extremely rare plant, and frequently the specimens they see are incomplete. For example, there might be fruits but no flowers, and we have to search for more specimens or wait for other scientists to send us more examples before we can thoroughly describe and publish a species as new. But when a region is first explored botanically, sometimes we are amazed to find that a conspicuous member of the plant community has no name.
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From the Field: A Botany Lesson in Vanuatu

Posted in From the Field on December 11th, 2014 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

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


VanuatuOf all the far-flung places that scientists from The New York Botanical Garden explore, one of the farthest in terms of distance and culture is Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific with a population of about 225,000 people spread over 65 islands and speaking more than 113 indigenous languages.

With its remote location, Vanuatu is home to many plant species that are found only there, making it a treasure trove of biodiversity and an important source of materials for biologists to study. The residents rely on native plants for food, fuel, medicine, and more, but unlike some better-known Pacific islands, Vanuatu’s plant life and the traditional knowledge about how to use those plants have not been adequately studied.
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An Unusual Find in the Herbarium: A Story of Righting a Past Wrong

Posted in Past and Present on December 5th, 2014 by Sarah Dutton – Be the first to comment

Sarah Dutton is a project coordinator who is currently working to digitize the algae collection in the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at The New York Botanical Garden.


Cropped label of bone pic

A curious specimen surfaces in the Herbarium’s archives

While making high-resolution digital images of lichen-covered rocks that are part of the collection in the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, I came across a specimen not long ago with an unusual and rather alarming label. Plainly written as part of the collection data on this otherwise inconspicuous box was the statement that the specimen was “on bone of Eskimo child.” I opened the box to find, indeed, a bone of some kind with bright orange and yellow lichen growing on it.

I happen to have studied anthropology in college. One of the most important things you learn in a modern anthropology class is that many of the interactions between researchers and indigenous peoples during the long history of the discipline were downright exploitative and unethical by today’s standards. For example, archaeologists and anthropologists have had an unfortunate history of taking artifacts and even human remains from groups of people without consent from the members of that community—and sometimes even when they were explicitly asked not to. Today, many indigenous peoples are working to repatriate these artifacts and human remains back to their original communities. This possible human bone in the Steere Herbarium immediately concerned me, and I wondered whether the NYBG should attempt to return it to the people it came from. Dr. Barbara Thiers, the Garden’s Vice President for Science Adminstration, agreed that we should look into it, and we began to investigate the history of the specimen.
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Discovering New Plant Species in the Field—and in the Herbarium, Part One

Posted in New Plant Discoveries on December 4th, 2014 by Douglas Daly – Be the first to comment

Douglas C. Daly, Ph.D., is the Director of the Institute of Systematic Botany and the B. A. Krukoff Curator of Amazonian Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Among his research activities, he is a specialist in the Burseraceae (frankincense and myrrh) family of plants.


A Central American rain forest that is home to a rare plant species recently described by Dr. Daly

A Central American rain forest that is home to a rare plant species recently described by Dr. Daly

Plant scientists discover and publish about 1,850 new species each year worldwide. That pace has not changed much since 1970, meaning that, although we have already described about 350,000 plant species, we still have a steep “learning curve” and a very long way to go before we come close to documenting all the world’s species of plants.

In this series of posts, I’ll describe some of the challenges that plant taxonomists face in their quest to discover new species. I’ll also explain why that work is so important in the effort to conserve plant life on Earth, using two recent examples from my own work in the genus Dacryodes, a group of about 60 related species of tropical trees.
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In the News: Dr. Ina Vandebroek Talks about Immigrants, Medicinal Plants, and Health Care

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories, Videos and Lectures on October 20th, 2014 by Ina Vandebroek – Be the first to comment

Ina Vandebroek, Ph.D., is an ethnomedical research specialist at The New York Botanical Garden’s Institute of Economic Botany. One of her research interests is studying how immigrant populations in New York City use traditional plant-based remedies in their health care.


Dr. Ina Vandebroek

Dr. Ina Vandebroek

En Tu Comunidad is a public affairs program on the Spanish-language network Unimas that serves the New York City metropolitan area. The show is hosted by Enrique Teuteló.

Enrique invited me on the show to talk about my research in ethnomedicine—specifically, the use of medicinal plants in Latino and Caribbean communities in New York City, especially within the community from the Dominican Republic—and how this research can help physicians establish a better relationship with their Spanish-speaking patients.

Read on for a short English summary of our conversation, plus the full video of the interview in Spanish.
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In the News: Dr. Barbara Thiers on The Huffington Post

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on October 7th, 2014 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

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


Barbara Thiers, Vice President for Science Administration, Patricia K. Holmgren Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium

Barbara Thiers, Vice President for Science Administration, Patricia K. Holmgren Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium

One of the most important projects underway at The New York Botanical Garden is the ongoing effort to make the preserved plant specimens in the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium available online. That means more than just taking high-resolution digital images of the plants. It also entails entering all of the information about the specimens, such as where they were collected, when, and by whom, into a searchable database.

Of the 7.4 million specimens now in the Steere Herbarium—the largest in the Western Hemisphere and one of the four largest in the world—Botanical Garden science staff have already digitized more than 2.3 million of them.

Why is this a big deal? Well, as more specimens become available online at the Steere Herbarium and elsewhere, plant scientists and other researchers will be able to compile massive amounts of data about Earth’s plant life for the first time.

The Huffington Post has published a piece by Dr. Barbara Thiers, the Garden’s Vice President for Science Adminstration and the Patricia K. Holmgren Director of the Steere Herbarium, in which she talks about one very important use for this newly available data: gaining a better understanding of the potential impact of climate change on ecosystems.

You can read more about the Garden’s digitization project here.

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

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 – 1 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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