Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Archive: February 2009

Plan Your Weekend: The Orchid Show Opens

Posted in Exhibitions, The Orchid Show on February 27 2009, by Plant Talk

Vote for Your Favorite Orchid

Nick Leshi is Associate Director of Public Relations and Electronic Media.

Orchid DetailOrchid lovers, rejoice! The Orchid Show: Brazilian Modern opens this weekend and runs through April 12. Visitors will have the chance to escape the winter blues and enjoy the thousands of orchids on display at The New York Botanical Garden.

The orchid is the world’s largest family of flowering plants with more than 30,000 naturally occurring species and tens of thousands of artificially created hybrids. Which is your favorite? Let us know by clicking on the Orchid Poll at right. Do you love the amazing shapes of the Oncidium or Paphiopedilum? Are you captivated by the stunning colors of Vanda orchids? Are you a Cymbidium or Phalaenopsis fan? Or does another species or hybrid capture your fancy? Vote now and let us know.

Brilliantly colored orchids and the lush tropical setting of a contemporary Brazilian garden await you at The Orchid Show, now in its seventh year. Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles has created this contemporary Brazilian garden design, inspired by his mentor, the renowned Roberto Burle Marx. The design features fountains, pools, and colorful mosaics combined with graceful palms, delicate orchids, bromeliads, and other native plants of Brazil. The orchids have been selected by Marc Hachadourian, Manager of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections at the Botanical Garden and Curator of The Orchid Show, and are featured throughout the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

Let the orchid mania begin! Get your tickets today.

Garden Scientist Weighs In on Rain Forest Debate

Posted in Science on February 26 2009, by Plant Talk

Scott A. Mori, Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany, has been studying New World rain forests at The New York Botanical Garden for 40 years.
RainforestPrimary rain forest in central Brazilian Amazon
This forest has as many as 285 different species of large trees in a single hectare (about 2.5 acres) among which are as many as 24 species of the Brazil nut family. The adjacent secondary forest that developed after cutting and burning has as few as one to three different species of large trees and not a single species of the Brazil nut family. Photo by Carol Gracie

Last month I attended a symposium hosted at the Smithonsian Institution titled “Will the Tropical Rainforests Survive? New Threats and Realities in the Tropical Extinction Crisis” This well-organized and engaging symposium served as the basis for subsequent articles in The Economist and The New York Times that have sparked lively debate. After reading these articles, I was prompted to write this blog to clear up some of the misconceptions that have arisen from the symposium.

(For readers who are not familiar with the terminology used to describe forest regeneration after deforestation, I provide a brief explanation of the process after the jump; see below.)

In the first place, there is no debate about the need to preserve primary forest among biologists who have studied tropical ecosystems. On several occasions the speakers and the moderator stated that the protection of primary forest is still a high priority. Moreover, there was no disagreement that primary forest continues to be destroyed at a high rate. There was, however, disagreement about the exact rate of primary forest destruction with the most pessimistic figures being 90% and the most optimistic being 32% lost by 2050. Considering that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that just 36% of the world’s forests remained relatively untouched in 2005, I can say that all estimates of primary forest destruction given at the symposium are most likely unacceptable to every single biologist in attendance at the symposium.

Another misconception is that biologists are debating whether secondary forests can protect more than a fraction of the biodiversity found in primary forests, and no speaker in the symposium actually said that secondary forests can possibly protect the vast biodiversity found in more mature forests. What was said is that secondary forests are: 1) the first step in regenerating biodiversity after large-scale disturbance, 2) useful as corridors for plants and animals to move from one area of old-growth forest to the next, and 3) providers of ecosystem services such as protecting soil, maintaining hydrological cycles, and sequestering carbon. I believe that most biologists attending this symposium would agree that old-growth forests do all of these things better than secondary forests but that secondary forests are better than completely deforested areas for providing ecosystem services and protecting biodiversity.

One of my research specialties is the classification, ecology, and evolution of New World tropical species of the Brazil nut family (Lecythidaceae). This family of trees is one of the dominant groups of trees found in lowland rain forests, serves as a symbol of this type of vegetation, and can be considered as the plant equivalent of the panda! As part of this research, my colleagues and I established a 100-hectare plot (250 acres) in primary forest in the Brazilian Amazon in which we located and mapped nearly 8,000 trees of this family. In that plot, we found 38 different kinds (species) of the Brazil nut family and have observed that in the nearby secondary forests that had arisen after cutting and burning of primary forest almost all of these species are gone. If all primary forests were eliminated nearly all of the species of the Brazil nut family would be lost forever because there would be no seed sources left to get them reestablished. If the protection of biodiversity is a goal, then secondary forests by themselves are not the answer and this, in my opinion, is not under debate by tropical biologists.

Learn about forest regeneration after the jump…

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Book Reviews: 9 for ’09

Posted in Shop/Book Reviews on February 25 2009, by Plant Talk

The Year’s “Must-Reads”

John Suskewich is Book Manager for Shop in the Garden.

To somebody who’s really into plants, February finds the cosmic garden center always filled with five-pints of that herbaceous perennial called hope, so I’m thinking ahead. I’m looking forward to that lengthening daylight. I’m thinking about those first snowdrops, about mud and muck, about witch-hazels and Rijnveld’s Early Sensation and seed orders and Lenten hellebores and unpaid credit card balances because of plant purchases, and then there are books.

Here are several new books that will tell me what I’m doing wrong and what plants that I don’t have that I gotta have, books about other gardens and other gardeners, books that are celebratory and books that are valedictory, books that are encouraging and books that are alarming. Some of these are out now and some will be published later in the year, but here is a selection, 9 for ’09, of books about plants and the people who are mesmerized by them.

The Edible Schoolyard by Alice Waters
At the acclaimed restaurant Chez Panisse, founder and chef Alice Waters created a style of cooking that is seasonal, market based, plant centered, and not just nutritional but nurturing. The Edible Schoolyard takes this template and applies it to education to reinvent the way we teach our kids. Her goals are our goals here at The New York Botanical Garden: to inject nature into our lives in a transformational way.

William Robinson, The Wild Gardener by Richard Bisgrove
William Robinson is one of those transcendent figures that everyone has heard of but whose achievement has been so long unstudied that newbies like me aren’t quite sure what he accomplished. One of the finest garden historians, Richard Bisgrove, reexamines the life and achievement of this icon who popularized the wild garden and the cottage garden and in whose works one finds the first intimations of a holistic view of gardening.

Listening to Stone by Dan Snow
What an inspired use of feldspar! If you need a dry stone wall with poetry as the mortar, Dan Snow is your mason. Listening to Stone is a look at his profession and an appreciation of his medium as well as a study of some of his recent constructions, which turn something weighty and substantial into works of art that are arrestingly enigmatic.

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin
I was in college during the ’70s, the heyday of macramé plant holders, the original cast recording of Pippin, beanbag furniture, and terrariums. (A terrarium was something you made when you got tired of netting dead neon tetras out of your 20-gallon fish tank.) Tovah Martin, one of our best garden writers, rethinks the concept with new containers and new plantings and reminds us that it is still one of the best methods for bringing and keeping nature indoors.

Read about John’s other selected books after the jump.

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The Alumni Network: Nurturing Landscape Careers

Posted in Learning Experiences on February 24 2009, by Plant Talk

Jeff Downing is Vice President for Education.

I speak with prospective landscape design students all the time. Many are in the process of considering career changes. They come from all walks of life and every field imaginable: marketing, graphic design, management, even law and medicine. They seek to move in a different direction for a wide variety of reasons, but all are intrigued by the possibility of a life working with plants outside the confines of a corporate office or just outside altogether. Many (but not all) seek the autonomy of developing a business of their own. But no matter what their history or interest, they all have one burning question: “If I earn a certificate in landscape design at The New York Botanical Garden, will I really be equipped to start a successful career?”

My answer to these queries is simple and succinct: “Yes.”

I say this with confidence not because of the comprehensiveness of the curriculum, the long history of the program, or the demonstrated excellence of the instructors—all of which are compelling recommendations in their own right. The true measure of the Garden’s landscape design program is the results. And I see the results each month when the Landscape Design Students and Alumni (LDSA) group holds its regular meetings down the hall from my office.

The LDSA has been meeting at the Garden since before I arrived 10 years ago. Once a month, 30 to 50 current and former students get together to hear presentations on different topics relevant to the professional practice of landscape design—estimating jobs, sourcing materials, considering ecological factors, developing their businesses—and to network with fellow alums who are out in the field working. The group is independently run and supported by the students themselves. The Garden provides a classroom—they do the rest.

To me, the LDSA group stands as a living, breathing testament to the success of the Garden’s landscape design program. There I reconnect with former students who’ve gone on to start successful businesses of their own, or to work with established firms. In many cases, I can recall my first conversations with them, when they were tentatively wondering whether pursuing a certificate would lead them to a new career. Now, with confidence in their eyes and business cards in their hands, they come back to share their experiences with their fellow pros and discuss the projects they’ve completed and the lessons they’ve learned. For me, that is the real measure of the program’s merit.

On Saturday, March 14, the Garden will host a free Continuing Education Open House. Come sit in on mini-classes, speak with instructors and program coordinators, and participate in career talks to hear first-hand what the Garden’s certificate programs can do for you. Spring and summer classes are all online now. Register online, or request a copy of our latest catalog. Spring is a great time to plant the seeds of a new career!

Tip of the Week — 2/23/09

Posted in Exhibitions, Gardening Tips, The Orchid Show on February 23 2009, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Everything You Need to Care for Orchids Is in Cupboard

Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education at The New York Botanical Garden.

NYBG Shop Orchid SaleThe best way to avoid or eliminate pest and disease problems when growing orchids in your home is to follow good cultural practices. Correct watering routines, consistent fertilizing, a good growing medium, proper light requirements, and adequate humidity levels are all essential to getting your exotic friends to thrive.

Sometimes, all that we do to take care of our orchids just isn’t enough. Let’s take a look as some user-friendly products that we have on hand to treat an ailing orchid. The first on the list is a grapefruit. If you notice that something is munching holes in the leaves of your orchid, but you just can’t find the culprit, then it’s probably a slug.

They nestle into the nice loose and moist pieces of your fir bark potting mix and wait until dark before they strike. These nocturnal creatures can do quite a bit of damage, so leave an overturned grapefruit or citrus rind in your pot. The slugs will crawl up into the damp cavity and you can then toss it out (slug and grapefruit rind) in the morning.

For other pest problems such as aphids, mealybugs, and scale try reaching into a household cupboard and pulling out the rubbing alcohol or the Murphy’s Oil Soap®. Dilute the Murphy’s Oil Soap® by adding 2–3 tablespoons to a quart of water. For scale, take a soft toothbrush or a cotton swab soaked with rubbing alcohol and rub off the scale.

Any new treatment should be tried first on one leaf or an isolated part of the plant to see how it is going to respond. Spray early in the morning or late in the day. Some sprays dry off quickly in the middle of the day and lose their potency and other times the combination of the spray and the intensity of the midday sun can burn the leaves. You will miss some insects the first time you spray, so repeat the treatment once a week for several weeks.

If your orchids have black or brown spots that start to grow and look watery or mushy, then there is a good chance that it has a bacterial or fungal problem. Stick your hand back into the cupboard and grab the cinnamon—nature’s favorite natural fungicide. If possible, cut off the infected portion of leaf and sprinkle cinnamon over the area. If that is not available try Neosporin® applied with a cotton swab.

Plan Your Weekend: For the Love of Birds

Posted in Programs and Events, Wildlife on February 20 2009, by Plant Talk

Birders Treated to Uncommon Sightings and Start of Mating Season

Debbie Becker leads a free bird walk at the Garden every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., beginning at the Reflecting Pool in the Leon Levy Visitor Center.

Northern Saw-whet owlThe other day I watched two male house sparrows competing for the attention of a female bird who seemed totally disinterested in their mating dance. With tail feathers extended they jumped, hopped, and vied for her attention. She seemed distracted and eventually flew away leaving the two male birds confused and looking for another female to shower with attention.

February marks the beginning of spring for many birds. It is the start of their mating season. Even though the temperature is hovering around 30 degrees and remnants of snow are on the ground, for birds love is in the air. Perhaps Valentine’s Day was created with birds in mind. What reasonable human really thinks about love during the coldest month of the year? Roses wilt, balloons deflate, and chocolate gets hard in the February frost. But for birds, their warm little bodies and courtship rituals begin to stir as tiny buds form on early blooming trees.

Bird watching has long been regarded as an act of love. For those of us who bundle up in the winter and drudge along snow-laden pathways in the Garden, it is a yearning of the heart that keeps us warm and drives us on. Our quest to see the owls, hear the mourning doves cry, watch the red-tailed hawks soar above, and feed the chickadees from our palms are all acts of unselfish and undying love. What else would motivate us to wake up early on a Saturday morning, don layers of clothes, gloves, boots, hand warmers, hats, and scarfs to brave the cold winds of February and March to go birding.

This year especially, the birding lovebug has bitten many. Because of the global changes and an unusually cold winter, many birds that normally are residents of Canada and the northeastern United States have been driven south by snow and an inability to find food. Much to the delight of birders in New York City and Long Island, white-winged crossbills, snow buntings, lapland longspur, pine siskins, snowy owls, snow geese, long-eared owls, and northern saw-whet owls, and bald eagles have been visiting our area. Earlier this month in the Garden 15 white-winged crossbills delighted a large group of birders with their chatter and acrobatic behavior as they hung from pine cones searching for food. We ran after them as they flew from tree to tree, careful not to slip on the ice but eager to see a sure life-bird for everyone on the bird tour.

Love is a universal feeling, and perhaps birders feel love a bit deeper than most. It is a love for the hobby of birding that drives us to preserve the natural habitats of our feathered friends. We may protest in the form of letters or e-mails about any habitat that is going to be torn down for a shopping center or housing development. Bird lovers will go that extra mile to keep secret an owl roost or to protect the location of a rare bird. I have witnessed passionate debates over the identification of an unrecognizable avian visitor.

Perhaps no other hobby elicits participation from a such a varied number of people. On my bird walks I have met students, politicians, lawyers, doctors, designers, secretaries, teachers, retirees, world travelers, consultants, photographers, writers, and more. The one common thread is the love of birding. And in this month of February with cupid looming about and the beginning of the spring mating season at hand, I hope to meet more people in love with the act of birding on my Saturday bird walks.

Check out all of Saturday’s programming.
Check out all of Sunday’s programming.

A Rosy Outlook, Even in February

Posted in Gardens and Collections, People on February 19 2009, by Plant Talk

Carol Capobianco is Editorial Content Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.

I bumped into Peter Kukielski, Curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, the other day in the hallway—we don’t often see Peter indoors. It was one of the coldest days of the year and Peter’s cheeks were rosy—but so was his outlook for a new rendition of the Rose Garden.

Above the Peggy Rockefeller Rose GardenPeter has been working on a multi-year dream to transform his charge into the world’s largest chemically-free, low-maintenance rose garden. A tall order, for sure, since roses have a reputation of being among the most chemically-dependent flowers in existence.

But during these months when our Rose Garden is in its winter stupor, Peter has been scouring the world (virtually, not physically) for the finest disease-resistant varieties in a major step to the conversion. Not only did he find what he was looking for, but all the growers donated the plants. Beginning in March, Peter will oversee the planting of 880 new, hardy roses to replace the more than 1,100 high-maintenance roses removed last fall, about one-third of the Rose Garden’s inventory. The new varieties bloom all season long and are easy to care for.

Peter’s passion for the project, his extensive expertise, and his willingness to experiment add up to an interesting season to come for the Rose Garden. Stay tuned for the announcement of its reopening this spring and be sure to come and visit.

Tip of the Week — 2/17/09

Posted in Gardening Tips on February 17 2009, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

The Cutting Edge

Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education at The New York Botanical Garden.

It’s the time of the year to get outside and evaluate the pruning needs in your yard. February and March tend to be ideal times to prune, not all but many of your shrubs.

Blue mist shrubHow do you go about deciding what needs to be done? First of all, it is important that you get to know your plants. Some shrubs respond well when pruned back hard every year in winter to early spring. They produce vigorous new growth and more flowers. Classic examples are repeat-flowering roses (e.g. hybrid teas), butterfly bush (Buddleja), and blue mist shrub (Caryopteris), pictured at right.

Some shrubs such as Japanese andromeda (Pieris), rhododendrons (Rhododendron), and Carolina allspice (Calycanthus) need very little pruning. Other shrubs such as daphne (Daphne) resent pruning and will tell you.

Gardening often involves casualties, and this is just part of the process. Here are some basic guidelines for pruning shrubs and several tips to get you successfully through the season.

Start your pruning by cutting out all dead, damaged, and diseased branches. Then stand back and look at the shrub. Second, remove any branches that are crossing over, deciding which branches to remove and which ones should remain. Step back again and look at the shape that you are left with. You will be amazed at how little pruning you have to do on the majority of your shrubs once you have made these cuts.

Remember that a shrub is like a crowded subway. As long as everyone has their own personal space and enough room to breath, they are happy. Your woody plants are the same. Do not have branches competing for the same space, they will only be unhappy. New wood is more vigorous than old wood, but it is good to have a balance between both so that you have some character and structure along with the young new maverick branches (that tend to be more floriferous). Once you have grasped these concepts, pruning is then a matter of style and personal taste.

Additional tips:

  • Never remove more than 20 percent of the growth unless you are rejuvenating a plant.
  • Always use sharp, clean tools that are appropriate for the task.
  • Shrubs that flower on current season’s growth can be pruned early in the season.
  • Shrubs that flower early in the season or flower on old wood (last season’s growth) should be pruned immediately after flowering. Remember that there are always exceptions to the rule, and it is important to know your plant.
  • Work with the natural shape of the plant to enhance its natural beauty and structure. This is very important. Working with the plant rather than against it will save you a lot of work.
  • Error on the side of caution—if you are not sure about a cut, don’t do it.
    Like every other aspect of gardening, have fun, make plenty of mistakes, and learn.