Plant Talk

Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Darwin’s Backyard

Posted in From the Library on September 20 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of Darwin's BackyardDarwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory is an interesting hybrid of a book. Author James T. Costa has written extensively on both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, and he brings his years of research to bear in Darwin’s Backyard.

The scope of Darwin’s Backyard is strictly relegated to documenting and explaining Darwin’s experimentation process and many of his experiments that might be conducted at home. At times, the narrative and pacing seems similar to Andrea Wulf’s 2015 book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World.  Wulf and Costa write not only about the scientist at the center of their novels, but also about the scientific community within which each scholar developed and interacted. Thus, in addition to documenting Darwin’s activities, Costa writes of his relationship with other scientists of the time, including Sir Charles Lyell.

Among other work, Lyell popularized the ideas of James Hutton whose geological theories were foundational to the way that we currently think about the earth and its processes. Hutton’s theory of Uniformitarianism, a theory which Lyell and Darwin discussed, is the idea that “Earth’s geologic processes acted in the same manner and with essentially the same intensity in the past as they do in the present and that such uniformity is sufficient to account for all geologic change.” This theory is also applicable in a broader sense across the sciences as a foundational idea that basic processes today are likely to have been similar or identical in the past, i.e., that we can use modern observations and ideas to understand past patterns, unless, of course, there is evidence that the processes themselves have changed.

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Designing with Succulents

Posted in From the Library on September 18 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of the cover of Designing with SucculentsAs I browsed Designing with Succulents, recently published in its revised second edition by Debra Lee Baldwin for Timber Press, I attracted some attention. “I love succulents,” multiple co-workers informed me, looking longingly at Baldwin’s book. After encouraging them to check out the library’s copy, I went back to my reading for this review. I have to agree with my coworkers. I love succulents! I love caring for my small houseplant collection as well as seeing ambitious and riotous garden designs and plantings that feature these plants. 

Succulents are appealing for many reasons including their bright, bold colors, use in low-water landscapes, and relatively low-maintenance as both house and garden plants. In her new book, Baldwin scintillates those who are already succulent enthusiasts and inspires those who have dreamed about growing succulents but haven’t yet taken the plunge.

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The Life of a Labeler

Posted in Horticulture on September 13 2017, by Kristine Paulus

Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager and Becky Thorp is the Senior Plant Recorder. They are responsible for maintaining the records of the Garden’s living collections.


Lush green lawns, majestic trees, and artfully designed flower gardens may be the first thing visitors notice when they arrive at NYBG, but as a botanical garden, our mission goes well beyond the creation of a beatiful landscape. For 125 years, NYBG has served as a cultural and educational institution where anyone can learn about horticulture and botany. One of the simplest and most effective ways we carry out this part of our mission is through the documentation, tracking, and labeling of plants. Just as visitors to an art museum learn to tell a Titian from a Twombly by reading display labels next to each work, botanical garden-goers learn to differentiate a tulip from a trillium by looking at plant labels.

Various plant labels from NYBG's history.

Every aspect of labeling the garden’s tens of thousands of plants, including research, database work, production, and placement of labels in the landscape, is managed by the Plant Records Department.

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Sunken Gardens, What’s Wrong with My Marijuana Plant?, & Growing Roses in the Pacific Northwest

Posted in From the Library on September 11 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


The cover of "Sunken Gardens."Sunken Gardens: A step-by-step guide to planning freshwater aquariums offers curious would-be-aquarium owners an introduction to the world of aquatic plant care in the home. Author Karen A. Randall shares with readers everything they need to plan, design, and maintain freshwater aquariums. Readers who aren’t familiar with aquarium gardening will feel a sense of information overload (in a good way!) when reading Sunken Gardens and enjoying Randall’s beautiful photographs. Topics including an introduction to aquatic plants in the wild, water chemistry, equipment, substrates, fertilizers, and tank maintenance, plant care, animal choices, aqua-scaping styles, and trouble-shooting all have their day. There is also an extensive plant profiles section for readers looking for inspiration. With Randall’s book in hand, the hobby of aquarium gardening is well in reach!

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What’s Beautiful Now: Back-to-School Blooms

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on September 7 2017, by Garrett Barziloski

Week of September 3, 2017

As students head back to school, we brace ourselves for the cooling temperatures and changing leaves of fall. Before we dive into the fall season, there’s still time to see an abundance of flowers and trees gracing NYBG’s 250 acres with their late-summer beauty. The Native Plant Garden continues to burst as goldenrod varieties and purple bottle gentians show their colors. Beat the lingering summer heat in the lush, shady greenery of the Azalea Garden or enjoy a stray breeze as it weaves through the colorful lilies and lotuses in the Conservatory Courtyard. 

Here’s a sneak peek of what we’ve got growing:

Conservatory Courtyard Pools & Containers

Conservatory Courtyard Pools & Containers
Picture 1 of 8

The waterlilies and lotuses are flowering in brilliant yellow, purple, pink, and even blue. Be sure to visit these serene and magical aquatic pools, surrounded by an abundance of summer containers.

New to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Children’s Collection

Posted in From the Library on September 7 2017, by Samantha D’Acunto

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


The LuEsther T. Mertz library just received new additions to our circulating children’s collection! The titles featured below are available for check out to NYBG members with library cards. Hope to see you in the library!

Timo’s Garden and Timo’s Party are wonderful options for young readers who are transitioning into chapter books. Each chapter is accompanied by colorful and detailed illustrations helping readers follow character and plot. Both of these titles provide just the right amount of excitement and suspense to keep readers engaged. Timo and his friends are sure to become favorites!

Timo’s Garden by Victoria Allenby/Illustrated by Dean Griffiths (2015)The cover of "Timo's Garden."

Timo decides to enter his garden into the Green Garden Tour schedule. With little time to complete his chores and changes, Timo cancels all of his plans to focus on making his garden great! As he hits obstacles along the way, Timo does not believe he’s prepared for the Green Garden Tour as much as he would like to be. Just when his moral is at its lowest, Timo’s friends show up unexpectedly to offer help! Together they achieve the great garden that Timo had envisioned.

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Worms at Work, The Food Forest Handbook, & How to Grow More Vegetables

Posted in From the Library on September 4 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


The cover of "Worms at Work."Worms at Work: Harnessing the awesome power of worms with vermiculture and vermicomposting is a new book on home composting from Crystal Stevens and New Society Publishers. The book includes some general introductory information for those interested in starting home worm composting operations and also includes a few activities for teachers who want to use compost and worms in the classroom. Local readers interested in learning more about home composting and home worm bins should check out the NYC Compost Project funded by the NYC Department of Sanitation and hosted by the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

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Departing Summer with an Ode to Insects in New Children’s Books

Posted in From the Library on August 31 2017, by Samantha D’Acunto

Samantha D’Acunto is the Reference Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden‘s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


Bugs for LunchBefore summer fades into autumn, we should take a moment and appreciate the insects that become visible during this time of year. The titles featured below encourage readers to explore, observe, and identify the insects around them. Each book has pages with bright illustrations, while fun facts offer plenty of room for imagination. The LuEsther T. Mertz Library invites you to read about our six-legged neighbors with a new appreciation before we bid them farewell until next season.

Bugs for Lunch by Margery Facklam/Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Insectos Para el Almuerzo por Margery Facklam / Illustrado por Sylvia Long

Who would eat bugs for lunch? Plenty of animals, as you will learn, enjoy insects as a meal. From birds to humans, explore the world of insects through this rhythmic bilingual narrative by Margery Facklam accompanied by Sylvia Long’s thrilling illustrations. Bugs for Lunch is perfect for readers interested in exploring the predator/prey aspect of the food chain. The bilingual narrative continues in the detailed glossary offering up more information of the insects, plants, and animals mentioned throughout the book. Bugs for Lunch is fun, informative, and memorable!

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What’s in a Plant Name? Scaevola aemula

Posted in Horticulture on August 30 2017, by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Katherine Wagner-Reiss has her certificate in botany from NYBG and has been a tour guide here for two years.


A shot of Scaevola aemula.
Scaevola aemula ‘Blue Fan’ near the tropical water lilies

Dale Chihuly has said that he enjoys displaying his art in botanical gardens because they can bring plant lovers a greater appreciation of art and vice versa.

I see this concept at work in NYBG’s CHIHULY exhibition. As you enter the Conservatory Courtyards to see Koda Study #3, you are treated to planters filled with complementary flowers. Quite striking is Scaevola ‘Blue Fan’, an annual whose common name is fanflower or, even more imaginatively, fairy fanflower. As you look down at the flower, it looks as though it has been cut in two; there is only half of a corolla tube But look closer and instead of a fan, you may see a left hand with five fingers.

As usual, I find the Latin name to be so much more exciting than the common name: Scaevola means “left-handed,” and aemula means “to imitate.”

Both Linnaeus (1707–1778), who is credited with naming the genus Scaevola, and Robert Brown (1773–1858), who named the species Scaevola aemula, most certainly knew the famous story of the Roman soldier Gaius Mucius: a man so brave that he thrust his right hand into fire and let it burn into uselessness to demonstrate his bravery when he was captured by the enemy. Astonished, the enemy released Gaius Mucius and, after that, he and his descendants were tagged with the surname of Scaevola. Even today, school children in Italy are familiar with this story.

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Montana’s Pioneer Botanists

Posted in From the Library on August 17 2017, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Montana's Pioneer Botanists, edited by Rachel Potter and Peter LesicaMontana’s Pioneer Botanists: Exploring the Mountains and Prairies is a new book from editors Rachel Potter and Peter Lesica, with an introduction by Jack Nisbet.

Montana’s Pioneer Botanists, a collection of biographies of regional botanists working in Montana, is the type of book that I really enjoy. Collections like this are essential for documenting and remembering important regional workers while sharing their legacy with the world. As is the case with other books of this ilk, some of the figures profiled in Montana’s Pioneer Botanists are known to a wider audience (Meriwether Lewis, for example), while others are beloved local heroes. In his introduction, Nisbet writes, “The subjects here hold a keen awareness of those who came before them, lending a strong sense of continuity to the entire project.” This continuity travels beyond Montana documenting ties between Montana botanists and the wider world, including the New York Botanical Garden. For example, botanist Robert Statham Williams (1859-1945) collected plants in Montana for years before joining the New York Botanical Garden in 1899. John Leiberg (1853-1913), another botanist profiled in this work, was a correspondent of Elizabeth Britton throughout his career.

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