Plant Talk

Inside The New York Botanical Garden

The World Atlas of Coffee

Posted in From the Library on April 18 2019, 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 World Atlas of CoffeeThe World Atlas of Coffee: From Beans to Brewing—Coffees Explored, Explained and Enjoyed (2018) is a coffee table book that details the history of coffee, how coffee is prepared, and regions of the world in which coffee is grown. The author, James Hoffmann, is the 2007 World Barista Champion and runs a coffee shop in the UK. The 2018 publication is a second edition with updated statistics and data, with several new countries added to the text, including DRC, Uganda, Thailand, Philippines, China, and Haiti. Although this work presents as a reference book, there are no references cited. Historical images are not included in the photo acknowledgements. While the content is very interesting, without a clear indication as to where the information is coming from, the work is beautiful, but not scientifically valuable. However, in terms of providing entertaining facts and compelling images, this work is quite successful, and may appeal to a culinary historian or amateur chef.

A Hint of Vanilla

Posted in Around the Garden on April 16 2019, by Lloyd Jones

Lloyd Jones is an Assistant Gardener in NYBG’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.


Photo of a vanilla orchid
Vanilla planifolia

Within the Lowland Rain Forest house of the NYBG’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory exists the only orchid genus from which a culinary product is derived. Native to the tropical Americas, it is widely cultivated in tropical climates throughout the world. Vanilla planifolia is an orchid of unusual orchid characteristics, but provides a popular, gratifying flavor. The opposite and alternate foliage is flat, thus the specific epithet “planifolia.” It is classified as an epiphytic/terrestrial tropical vine with aerial roots for support and to collect nutrients and water. This plant thrives in moist, humid, and warm conditions with filtered light. The name vanilla comes from the Spanish word vainilla, meaning small pod.

This year I have personally counted 13 clusters of flower buds, which are now unfolding one bud per cluster, per day. The flower color ranges from light green to pale yellow, and, because the native pollinator is not present outside the orchid’s native range, it must be hand pollinated during the morning of the first 24 hours when they flowers are receptive. For both educational and collections purposes, we plan on hand pollinating the flowers as they successively open. If pollination is successful, we expect to see the familiar vanilla pods forming over the next few months. Come visit and witness the origin of one the world’s favorite flavors!

Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes—A Documentary World Premiere

Posted in Humanities Institute on April 16 2019, by Vanessa Sellers

Photo of attendees
Gathered in front of the Tulip Tree Allee shortly before the screening, Film Director Stephen Ives (center) is surrounded by (left to right) John Beardsley (Film Interviewee), Lynden Miller (Film Narrator), his wife Anne Cleves Symmes and Sir Peter Crane (Moderator).

Friday, March 15, 2019 marked the Sixth Annual Humanities Symposium. To celebrate the occasion, the Humanities Institute, together with NYBG’s Department of Adult Education, invited audiences to the screening of an important new documentary, Beatrix Farrands’s American Landscapes.

Opening the program was Carrie Rebora Barratt, Chief Executive Officer and William C. Steere Sr. President of NYBG, who enthusiastically welcomed the audience stating that the film screening could not have been timelier as March was Women’s History Month. She continued to say that celebrating Beatrix Farrand—the only female charter member of the American Society of Landscape Architects—was to acknowledge the vital role women have played and continue to play in American history and culture today.

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Success with Succulents

Posted in From the Library on April 11 2019, 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.


Image of the cover of Success with SucculentsSuccess with Succulents: Choosing, Growing, and Caring for Cactuses and Other Succulents is a 2017 book from John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller. Bagnasco has worked in the gardening industry for more than 45 years, first in nurseries and garden centers, and later as a senior magazine editor and radio personality for Garden Compass. Reidmuller has worked for Altman Plants (Vista, CA), the nation’s largest propagator of cacti and succulents, for over 25 years.

Success with Succulents is organized into four sections: What are Cactuses? What are Succulents?, Cactuses and Succulents Outdoors, Cactuses and Succulents Indoors, and Featured Plants. The outdoor gardening guidelines are not region-specific, although most of the species recommended would not be cold hardy in our climate. There are a few outliers—of the plants featured, it is mostly select sedums that are cold tolerant. Arguably the most useful content for our region is in the section pertaining to indoor plants, and the authors cover topics including soil, moisture, pests, and propagation, to name a few. The featured plants section is also very useful, including information about plant family, origin, culture, cold hardiness (by degree in Fahrenheit), propagation method, bloom time, and a blurb about the plant’s appearance and behavior in different landscapes.

All in all, Success with Succulents is a helpful and compact resource for readers who want to care for their existing plants or add a few more plant babies to their collection.

Readers who have questions about how to care for their succulents and troubleshoot problems can contact the NYBG Plant Information Office for help. Guides about caring for succulents and cacti indoors have also been provided.

Spring Mania

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on April 9 2019, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of a magnoliaSeasoned tree lovers often experience a bit of anxiety during unseasonably warm winter weather. Extended thaws in January and February can cause the fuzzy gray buds of the magnolias to swell in anticipation of the bloom, elevating the risk of frost damage should cold spells show up later on. Nothing is so disheartening as magnolia flowers turned to ugly brown mush by a surprise spring freeze.

Sometimes things do work out, however. There were brief warm spells this winter, but there were also long periods of deep cold and the magnolia buds didn’t really get moving until March. The weather warmed gradually from March into April, and we are now entering the beginning of one of the most dazzling horticultural spectacles of the year.

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Young Readers Spring Forward at the NYBG Library!

Posted in From the Library on April 8 2019, by Samantha D’Acunto

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

Cover of When Spring Comes to the DMZThis spring the LuEsther T. Mertz Library would like to encourage young readers to try reading above their reading level. New 2019 titles added to the library’s circulating children’s collection aim to encourage readers to challenge their reading abilities, enhance vocabulary, and learn new facts about the natural world—and have fun doing it!

When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee  

In When Spring Comes to the DMZ, author Uk-Bae Lee warns readers about the environmental and societal impacts of wars. The border between North and South Korea is illustrated carefully in delicate watercolors depicting juxtaposing scenes. As the seasons change along the DMZ, readers will experience the flora and fauna awaken with spring alongside series of military exercises. The people and the surrounding habitats, though impacted by the wall, remain resilient and hopeful for future reunification. The back matter offers a brief summary about the history of Korea’s split for readers who seek additional information on the topic.

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What’s Beautiful Now: Rock Garden Reopening

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on April 5 2019, by Matt Newman

After a sleepy winter season where the Rock Garden remains closed, we’ve finally reopened it for spring, and just in time for the tiny alpine treasures that call this collection home to wake for the warmth. Pick a sunny day to visit this treasured, secluded space at NYBG to discover brightly colored irises, crocuses, and cyclamen growing in and among the rocks that form its borders.

Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin'

<em>Iris</em> 'Katharine Hodgkin'
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Gardens of the Arts & Crafts Movement

Posted in From the Library on April 4 2019, 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.


Image of the cover of Gardens of the Arts & Crafts MovementGardens of the Arts & Crafts Movement is a beautiful book from acclaimed writer Judith B. Tankard. Tankard, who taught at the Landscape Institute of Harvard University for more than 20 years, is the author or coauthor of 10 books on landscape history (Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes, Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood), and recipient of awards from the Garden Writers Association and the American Horticultural Society. Gardens of the Arts & Crafts Movement is a revised edition of Tankard’s 2004 book titled Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement: Reality and Imagination.

Tankard is a careful and thorough researcher, and this book shines as a well-crafted resource for readers who are interested in the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States and Great Britain. Beginning in Britain around the 1880s, before spreading to the United States, the Arts and Crafts movement placed value in traditional craftsmanship as a counter-culture reaction to the trend of industrialization. Simple forms, often from nature, were key design elements, and the movement included social reform interests that were also in keeping with the anti-industrial values of the aesthetic concerns.

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The Nightlife of Singapore Comes to NYBG

Posted in The Orchid Show on April 2 2019, by Matt Newman

During Orchid Evenings, experience the sights and sounds of Singaporean nightlife with original music performed by Eli Tyler, along with the energetic urban choreography of Venus Chun and her dance company. Grab a Singapore sling, a bite from the Bronx Night Market pop-up, and settle in for a night of Orchid Show beauty—but don’t wait, as past evenings sold out! Grab your tickets while they’re still around.

The Life & Works of Margaret Neilson Armstrong

Posted in People on March 29 2019, 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 Pride of California
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Neilson Armstrong (1867 – 1944) was a book designer, field collector, botanical illustrator, mystery writer, and more. She was born in 1867 in New York City to a wealthy and artistic family and raised along the Hudson River in Danskammer. Her father, Maitland Armstrong (1836 – 1918),[i] was a stained glass artist and diplomat. Her sister, Helen Maitland Armstrong (1869 – 1948),[ii] was a prominent stained glass artist, with whom she collaborated on a number of book design and illustration projects.

Armstrong’s first book cover design was published in 1890 when she was 23 years old. When she began to work in book design, Armstrong didn’t reveal that she was a woman, using only her initials – “M. N. Armstrong.” However, in 1892 she won an award for her book design work at the World’s Colombia Exposition in Chicago. From there she went on to design approximately 314 book covers, and by 1895 she established her stylized signature “M. A.” Prior to that, she had not always signed her designs.

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