Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Archive: January 2012

From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn, Day 1

Posted in Bill Buck, From the Field, Science on January 31 2012, by William R. Buck

January 17, 2012; Punta Arenas, Chile

As I begin writing, we are pulling away from the main municipal dock in Punta Arenas, and are beginning our 2012 expedition. (Read about all of Bill’s 2011 adventures here.)

We have a large group this year, with eleven scientists and five crew. Out of the ten flying into Punta Arenas, only four made it on time. I arrived eight hours late due to mechanical problems in Atlanta causing me to miss my connection in Santiago. From Santiago I was scheduled to fly to Punta Arenas, on Sky, but when I arrived late, they told me that there was nothing they could do that day and that they had no responsibility to do so. So, I went to the larger airline, Lan, and was able to purchase a new ticket for later that same day; almost surely cheaper than a hotel and dinner in Santiago! When I arrived in Punta Arenas at around midnight, I found an empty airport completely devoid of taxis.

Our Chilean collaborator Juan Larraín, also had a Sky flight to Punta Arenas that was delayed–he was stranded at his layover in Puerto Montt and arrived four hours late. This is not an airline I intend to use again! Matt von Konrat, of the Field Museum in Chicago, also found himself delayed and had to spend the night in Dallas/Fort Worth. He arrived about eight hours late, finally landing in Punta Arenas around 3 a.m. After my late-night, taxi-less arrival, I knew Matt would have the same problem. Seeing as he speaks very little Spanish, Juan and I arranged for a taxi to pick us up at our hotel at 2:15 a.m., take us to the airport, wait, and bring us all back to the hotel. When Matt arrived in the baggage claim area, he looked very tired and weary, but his facial expression changed immediately to one of relief when he spotted us waiting for him.

The team en route to Isla Hoste
The team en route to Isla Hoste

Returning for a second expedition is Blanka Shaw from Duke University, as well as Matt (who has made a really great project website), Juan, and our facilitator/scientist, Ernesto Davis. I don’t think I can count how many trips Ernesto made to the airport, especially with all the missed and canceled flights. He is our hero.

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Posted in Around the Garden, People on January 31 2012, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Ivan and the calabashThe other day I had a conversation with one of my colleagues, Ivan Ragoonanan, about his native Trinidad. During the course of the workday he often drops interesting pieces of information about the vegetation from his homeland. I was interested in an anecdotal history of some of his favorite plants.

Local customs and the different uses of plants not only tell us a great deal about the plants themselves, but also provide a wealth of information about the lifestyles of the culture and the relationship the community has to the natural world. These things bring to light the practical and utilitarian role of nature in our lives, as well as its “magical” qualities.

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NYBG Science in the News: Plain English and the Tree of Life

Posted in NYBG in the News, Science on January 30 2012, by Ann Rafalko

The turn of the year from 2011 to 2012 was an exciting time for the scientists who work, teach, and research at The New York Botanical Garden.

No longer necessary: The describing of plants in Latin, followed by a translation in English.
No longer necessary: The describing of plants in Latin, followed by a translation in English.

In December, scientists at the Botanical Garden, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York University, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced that they had created the largest genome-based tree of life for seed plants to date. In January, James S. Miller, Ph.D., Dean and Vice President for Science at the Garden, explained important changes in the requirements for the naming of newly discovered plants beginning in 2012. Earlier in 2011, Dr. Miller had been the lead author on an article in the online journal PhytoKeys summarizing the changes. To say that these scientific advancements are huge is a gross understatement, but how to understand them?

Let’s use plain English, which is exactly what the new plant-naming requirements do. As outlined in an op-ed published in the New York Times on January 22, Dr. Miller, who took part in the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, Australia, where the changes were approved, explains that plants will still be named in Latin, but that they will no longer have to be described in Latin. This laborious process–which has been on the botanical books since 1908–is only the first hurdle each botanist must clear before he may name a new plant species. The next step, the publishing of this description in a printed, paper-based journal, has also been done away with by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in an effort to speed the naming of plants. Why the hurry? As Dr. Miller says, “as many as one-third of all plant species (may be) at risk of extinction in the next 50 years.” One way to save a plant is to name a plant. From there, scientists–freed from the strictures of Latin–may further investigate the plant and all of its potentialities.

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USDA Launches First New Hardiness Zone Map Since 1990

Posted in Adult Education, Gardening Tips on January 30 2012, by Joyce Newman

New Yorkers may wake up tomorrow in a warmer zone, according to the just-released, internet-friendly 2012 USDA Hardiness Zone Map.

Home GardeningThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has just released a new version of its Plant Hardiness Zone Map (PHZM) for the first time since 1990, updating individual zones with much greater accuracy and detail. This could mean a shake-up for seed distributors and gardeners alike, with a slightly different range of plants being recommended for certain regions across the country.

Also for the first time, the new map offers an interactive format using the Geographic Information System (GIS) and the map website incorporates a “find your zone by ZIP code” function.

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Two in the Bush: Owls Spotted

Posted in Around the Garden, Photography on January 27 2012, by Matt Newman

Great Horned OwlNews for birding fanatics! The owls are making themselves known again at the NYBG, or so recent sightings would suggest. Friend of the Garden Pat Gonzalez informs me that a birdwatching group caught a glimpse of our Great Horned Owls mating (that’s a good sign) in the Forest near the hemlocks, meaning that we may have another small parliament of owls (I maintain that collective nouns are the most fun you can have in language arts) terrorizing our chipmunk population in the near future.

Despite often being year-round residents at the NYBG, we generally see neither hide nor feather of these airborne hunters due to their nocturnal habit–at least up until breeding season when diurnal hunting becomes more common. Having the leaves off the trees at this time of year also makes spotting these raptors more of a cinch. But when a storm toppled the birds’ favorite nesting tree, it made locating them something of a challenge. Seeing the owls going into 2012 has proven a hit-or-miss endeavor for our local birders.

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Adventures in Adaptations

Posted in Around the Garden, Exhibitions on January 26 2012, by Matt Newman

Enid A. Haupt ConservatoryAt the core of botany is a rampant love of adventure. It’s traipsing through the back yard in search of four-leaf clovers as much as it’s hiking through a cloud forest on the trail of a rare epiphyte. It’s about climbing trees, whistling through blades of grass, and chasing the satisfaction of discovery. The need to uncover new things begins early. And if, as Carl Sagan once said, “every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist,” there’s no better team to enlist in our search for Dr. Ed!

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