Mission and History
The New York Botanical Garden is an advocate for the plant kingdom. The Garden pursues its mission through its role as a museum of living plant collections arranged in gardens and landscapes across its National Historic Landmark site; through its comprehensive education programs in horticulture and plant science; and through the wide-ranging research programs of the International Plant Science Center.
Distinguished by the beauty of its landscape, collections, and gardens as well as the scope and excellence of its programs in horticulture, education, and science, The New York Botanical Garden is unique among museums and public places in America. The illustrious history of the Garden began during the 19th-century civic movement in New York City to create a cosmopolitan world capital. City officials, prominent financiers, and corporate citizens created an impressive roster of great cultural institutions, including public libraries, museums, zoos, and this botanical garden.
Inspired by an 1888 visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London, eminent Columbia University botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton, and his wife, Elizabeth, also a botanist, determined that New York should have one of the world’s great botanical gardens. Upon their return home, they launched a public campaign to establish this institution as a private, non-profit corporation in partnership with New York City and State, and their new botanical garden was chartered by New York State in 1891.
Because of its highly picturesque terrain, the freshwater river in a rock-cut gorge, and 50 acres of old-growth forest, Britton chose this City-owned property as the future home of The New York Botanical Garden in 1895. Calvert Vaux, co-designer of Central Park, laid out the Garden’s first schematic design. Many of Vaux’s plans, including roadways and paths, are prominent features today. Later the Olmsted Brothers firm developed the roadway and circulation plan, and since those early years many distinguished American landscape and garden designers have contributed significant elements. Many historic landscapes have been restored in recent years.
This has always been a botanical garden with a three-fold mission — to conduct basic and applied research on the plants of the world with the goal of protecting and preserving them where they live in the wild; to maintain and improve the gardens and collections at the highest horticultural standard; and to use the Garden itself as a venue for teaching the public about plant biology, horticulture, and the natural world generally.
Driven by this mission, the Garden’s Board and staff have created one of the world’s most comprehensive plant research and conservation programs, which includes fieldwork to discover new species, active collaborations to promote forest and habitat protection, and plant molecular biology. In the course of a century-long effort, the institution has amassed over 7,300,000 plant specimens in the research herbarium, now among the four largest in the world; built the world’s most important research library about plant science and horticulture; continued to steward this important American landscape; and taught millions of visitors to love and respect the world’s flora.
More information about the Garden and its history can be found in The New York Botanical Garden and Britton's Botanical Empire: The New York Botanical Garden and American Botany, 1888-1929