Plant Talk

Exploring the science of plants, from the field to the lab

Gardens of the High Line

Posted in From the Library on July 19 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 Gardens of the High LineThe High Line, “a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side,” is a popular NYC attraction for locals and tourists alike. Before reading Gardens of the High Line: Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke, I had the benefit of reading a wonderful review of the book written by Patricia Jonas for the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Newsletter. In her review, after a summary of the many books published on the High Line garden over the past six years, Jonas writes, “Could there possibly be any more vital books about the High Line yet to be published? Well, yes. Gardens of the High Line is the icing on all of this publishing and the only book to focus exclusively on the famous park’s planting design and the plants.” 

Gardens of the High Line is exquisite, and a treat for regular High Line visitors and those who can only admire the space from afar. In the book’s introduction, Friends of the Highline co-founder Robert Hammond writes, “when I first stepped up on the High Line in 1999, I truly fell in love. What I fell in love with was the tension. It was there in the juxtaposition between the hard and the soft, the wild grasses and billboards, the industrial relics and natural landscape, the views of both wildflowers and the Empire State Building. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. And it’s that tension that gives the High Line its power.” This tension is captured in the photographs of Gardens of the High Line, although Lorraine Ferguson’s graphic design of the volume makes even the most “ugly” portraits of the space seem beautiful.

Less focused on the history of the space and more concerned with the gardens themselves, Gardens of the Highline is a plant lover’s dream. Each of the High Line’s 13 gardens are profiled and described with extensive photographs, including wonderful aerial photographs. These aerial shots, in particular, offer a new glimpse into this popular site’s overarching design ethos.

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever find the High Line as contemplative and empty as it appears in many of the Gardens of the High Lines photographs, but the book reminds readers why this dynamic space is so special and so worth returning to again and again throughout the seasons and years.

What’s Beautiful Now: Lazy Lotuses

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on July 11 2017, by Matt Newman

Week of July 9, 2017

There’s something about a lotus blossom lazily tousled by the breeze that makes us think “summer” around here, and this week that feeling is running high. The Conservatory Pools are quickly becoming the jewels of July as the lotuses—and their friends the water lilies—bloom under the sun. Meanwhile, the Perennial Garden is a party of foliage and flowers, and the Forest, as ever around this time of year, is the sort of zen escape sorely needed in this bustling city. Check it out!

Conservatory Pools

Conservatory Pools
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The waterlilies and lotuses are beginning to flower in brilliant yellow, purple, pink, and even blue. Don’t miss these serene and magical aquatic plants!

 

The Trees of North America

Posted in From the Library on July 5 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 Trees of North AmericaThe Trees of North America: Michaux and Redouté’s American Masterpiece is a new book from The New York Botanical Garden and Abbeville Press. This beautiful volume includes 277 color plates from The North American Sylva, the first volumes of which were published in 1817 by François André Michaux (1770–1855), followed by subsequent volumes in the 1840s by Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859).

François André Michaux was a French botanist and explorer. François André with his father, Andre? Michaux (1746–1802), wrote some of the most important and widely-read books about North American flora. Susan Fraser (Vice President and Director of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library) and author Marta McDowell have written detailed introductory essays in The Trees of North America which include bibliographic information about the series and biographical information about the two Michaux explorers and Thomas Nuttall, the author who eventually completed the project.

It’s impossible to look at these plates without thinking about the early days of botany as we know it in North America. For those who love native trees, The Trees of North America is both beautiful and transportive. Certain plates, such as that of Castanea dentata, the American chestnut, are lovely and bittersweet. With accompanying illustrations by David Allen Sibley (who also wrote the afterword), The Trees of North America is an enjoyable read for all history of science and native plant enthusiasts.

 

What’s Beautiful Now: Perfect Green

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on June 26 2017, by Matt Newman

Week of June 26, 2017

While the Rose Garden has begun its summer settling-down, there’s still color to be seen there! Elsewhere in the Garden, such as the Native Plant Garden and the Rock Garden, you can find peaceful, shady vistas peppered with attractive summer flowers. The Azalea Garden is a lush escape as well during this time of year, with large-leaved hostas and other rich foliage creating a rolling hillscape of greens.

Tree of the Week: Catalpa × erubescens ‘Purpurea’, purple catalpa

Tree of the Week: <em>Catalpa</em> × <em>erubescens</em> ‘Purpurea’, purple catalpa
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Look for the showy pyramidal clusters of white and purple flowers of this young tree near the Harding Lab at the bottom of the Tulip Tree Allée. The cultivar ‘Purpurea’ is named for its foliage, which emerges a dark-purple and fades to green over the summer. Another catalpa, Catalpa bignoniodes, can be found blooming along Garden Way. The large, nearly heart-shaped foliage of these trees adds an interesting texture to the summer landscape.

Spotlights from the Shelf: Bees

Posted in From the Library on June 26 2017, by Samantha D’Acunto

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


Photo of Bee & MeHere at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library we consider bees our friends, and you should too! If you’re a bit unsure of having a friendship with a bee, let us try to convince you with the newest titles in our circulating children’s collection. In the titles featured below, you’ll be able to read about all the wonderful things bees have to offer to us and our environment, making them the most generous friends!

Bee & Me by Alison Jay (2016)

Bee & Me is a delightful story of friendship, environment and the plight of the honeybee. This wordless picture book captures the relationship between a girl and a bee in a series of delicately illustrated pages. A disoriented bee finds itself in the center of a city and flies into the room of a little girl. After their chaotic encounter, the little girl befriends the bee. The two spend time sharing food, playing games, and exploring the city together. When Bee is reminded of the home he no longer has, he is suddenly struck with melancholy. In an attempt to cheer Bee up, the little girl takes Bee to visit a park where there are plenty of trees, flowers, and open space! Overjoyed by this discovery, Bee thanks the little girl by helping her plant a window garden of his favorite flowers so when they bloom, he’ll be there to visit.

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What’s in a Plant Name: Liriodendron tulipifera L.

Posted in Horticulture on June 21 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.


Photo of a tulip tree flower
Liriodendron tulipifera L. flower

The NYBG Tulip Tree Allée is a NYC Landmark. Twenty-six Liriodendron tulipifera L. were planted in 1903. While it is unusual for a Landmark to be composed of living things, people should be able to enjoy this Landmark for hundreds of years to come, since the trees were 10 years old at planting and individual tulip trees have been known to live for 500 years. These majestic trees are in the magnolia family.

As you face the Library Building, notice one tulip tree with a larger girth in the uppermost left-hand corner; as the Library was being built, this original tree was preserved and it may well have been the inspiration for planting the other 26.

Now, to dissect the Latinized name: Lirio derives from the Greek word for lily, dendron from the Greek word for tree, and tulipifera means “tulip-bearing.” Curious that both the leaves and the flowers have a tulip shape! Whenever I see the L. after the species name, I feel a close tie with history, since that signifies that Carl Linnaeus, the father of botany, officially gave that Latinized name to the plant.

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Cutting Back in Kyoto

Posted in From the Library on June 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 Cutting BackCutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck is part memoir, part travelogue, and part garden design narrative. In 1999, Buck, then the owner of a pruning business in California, traveled to Japan in pursuit of an internship. Having worked with Japanese and Japanese-taught mentors previously, Buck was determined to gain additional training from Japanese craftspeople working in Japan’s famed gardens. Through the help of contacts in Kyoto, Buck obtained an internship at Uetoh Zoen, one of the oldest and most respected landscape companies in Kyoto.

For the most part, it was interesting to read about Buck’s experience working on a pruning-only garden crew, as well as to learn about her attempts to understand and navigate Japanese culture as an American woman. Buck wrote that her “Bossman” was constantly challenging her with progressively more difficult tasks, and for that reason she never fully settled in to her internship or hit her stride. By the end of the book, Buck seemed to have learned about Japanese work ethic, culture, and gardening practices in spite of forgetting all the Japanese language she had learned (as she claimed).

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What Have Plants Ever Done for Us?

Posted in From the Library on June 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 a book coverWhat Have Plants Ever Done for Us? is a wonderful book about botany, history, and human society. Authored by Stephen Harris, Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria and a University Research Lecturer, Plants was published in 2015. Those who read a lot of popular science books about botany will be aware that there are quite a few books published in the vein of Plants, sort of “natural history prose” about how certain plant species or plant groups have been used by humans throughout the ages.

Poorly-researched books are a dime a dozen, which makes Plants all the more wonderful. Harris is a detail-oriented researcher who writes well, both clearly and with a very dry (sometimes hard to catch) sense of humor. Not only does Harris review and condense several more recent “a history of” publications about different plants (for example, The Pineapple: The King of Fruits or Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization), he incorporates recent scholarly scientific research articles as well as notable historic works written between the 15th and 20th centuries. Harris deftly weaves his narrative with elements of history, botanical nomenclature, taxonomy, plant morphology, genetic research, and economics. In addition to very good scientific writing, there is a great deal here about the trade and colonization practices of European powers in particular, as well as elements of conservation theory.

Any lover of plants will enjoy What Have Plants Ever Done for Us?. Readers can sample a chapter or two at a time, or read the text from cover to cover. Teachers in many different disciplines—humanities and sciences both—might also find Plants to be very valuable as a teaching aid, either by assigning chapters to students as readings or using chapter topics to structure lesson plans.  Having finished Plants, I am now eager to read more by Harris! In particular, Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum: A Brief History, Harris’s new book from University of Chicago Press.

What’s Beautiful Now: Shapes of the Solstice

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on June 19 2017, by Matt Newman

Hydrangea quercifoliaWeek of June 19, 2017

While the roses have hit their spring peak, you’ll still find color in the collection throughout summer as we move on toward its September redux. Meanwhile, the lush greenery of summer is the pride of the Garden right now, with late spring flowers in all shapes and sizes making a showing throughout.

There’s no better place to catch it than in the Native Plant Garden, where speckled sunlight filters down through the tree canopy to light ferns and grasses in abundance. The Rock Garden continues its quiet, colorful reign as we move into summer, and the Perennial Garden is a manicured balance of flowers and foliage right now. See what’s beautiful at NYBG this week, just ahead of the summer solstice!

Perennial of the Week: Astilbe × arendsii 'Amethyst'

Perennial of the Week: <em>Astilbe </em>×<em> arendsii</em> 'Amethyst'
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Reaching heights of 30”–36”, Astilbe × arendsii 'Amethyst' is known for its tall and fluffy plumes of lavender-pink flowers. This perennial is clump-forming, yet graceful with its flowers emerging erect on a tall and slender stem above the mounds of fern-like leaves (about 12”–24” tall). You can find sweeps of this beauty in the Azalea Garden.