If that’s not enough, and you’re looking for some brainiac mental stimulation instead, we’ve got that too! As part of this weekend’s World Science Festival we’re offering tours of our science facilities, special lectures, and concerts. Yep, that’s right, a science-based, cicada-centric concert! It doesn’t get more geektastic than that!
As Community Horticulturist for Bronx Green-Up, the community garden outreach program of The New York Botanical Garden, Sara Katz works alongside resident stewards of the borough’s community and school gardens and urban farms. She is also a hobbyist beekeeper at Taqwa Community Farm.
A message one frigid morning in early spring, left in a fine British accent: “Hello, this is Jane Selberg from PS 105. I’m calling because our school received a grant to build a garden. We would really appreciate any advice or resources you might be willing to contribute. We’d like to use the garden to teach the children about pollinators and wildlife, and plant native plants to attract butterflies and things.”
I smiled when I heard that one on the Bronx Green-Up line. Days before, we were offered 2,000 native plants for an upcoming public workshop we do annually with Butterfly Project NYC. The plants themselves were particularly noteworthy: castaways from construction of the new Native Plant Garden, which opened on May 4th at NYBG.
In a bright schoolyard near Pelham Parkway, in the Northern Bronx, the concrete has a colorful maze painted on it, a mural on the ground. This is where I came to meet Jane Selberg and, well, most of her immediate family: two blond daughters and their husbands, all yanking out weeds in a long brown stretch of garden-to-be, about a hundred feet long and four feet wide.
Although many of our northeastern violets are lovely to look at, there is only one that is intensely fragrant—the tiny, white-flowered Viola blanda, commonly called sweet white violet. The delicate little flowers are well worth kneeling down and placing your nose right next to them to inhale their sweet scent.
While there, take the time to observe the structure of the flower. Like other members of its genus, the flowers have five petals, the lowest of which is modified into an extended spur to hold the flower’s nectar. Rather than aroma, most of our violet species attract pollinators with their pleasing colors of purple, white, or yellow. To reach the nectar in the deep spur requires a long proboscis such as that of butterflies. By patiently observing a patch of violets, you may be lucky enough to witness one of these pollinators visiting the flowers. In the case of the accompanying photograph, a West Virginia White butterfly visited several species of violets, among them this long-spurred violet, Viola rostrata. The same species of butterfly may also be seen depositing its eggs on nearby toothwort plants (Cardamine spp.), which serve as food plants for its larvae.
Sweet-scented violets have played a notable role in history. The favorite flower of Napoleon and his first wife, the Empress Josephine, was a European violet, Viola odora, which was especially prized for its lovely, sweet scent. Each year Napoleon would present Josephine with a bouquet of sweet violets on the anniversary of their wedding day. Violets, in fact, became a symbol of the Napoleonic reign. Despite Napoleon and Josephine’s great love, when Josephine failed to produce an heir after 13 years of marriage, Napoleon divorced her and married the young Marie Louise, who quickly bore him a son. However years later, when Napoleon died, his locket was found to contain a lock of Josephine’s hair and some pressed violets—a token of his lasting love for his first wife.
Understanding the botanical naming system can be a difficult task for beginners—classification hierarchy, plant name changes, and name selection all have to be taken into account. But rather than tackle this important botanical puzzle all at once, we instead begin with the most basic piece: species names. The rules discussed here apply not just to the Brazil nut family, but to every plant found in all the world’s habitats, and have much in common with zoological nomenclature.
A species name consists of two parts—Gustavia augusta, for example. The first part of the name is the genus and the second is the species epithet, each of which is either in Latin or Latinized words from other languages, especially Greek. Known as binomial nomenclature, Carl Linnaeus is considered the first to use this system, which he employed in his Species Plantarum—long regarded as the starting point for plant nomenclature. As such, a name used in Species Plantarum has priority over other names published for the same species at a later date.
Gustavia augusta L. was published in a later, 1775 edition of Species Plantarum, but afterward the same species was published as Gustavia antillana Miers in 1874. In this case, Gustavia augusta is considered the correct name, and G. antillana is accepted as a synonym.
This winter I attended a lecture by Bill Calkins, Retail Business Manager for the Ball Horticultural Company, a well-known seed company founded in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Its reputation for innovative new introductions and high quality product lines—including Simply Beautiful Gardens and Burpee Home Gardens—is renowned in the industry.
I enjoyed Calkins’ lecture not only because it covered an impressive array of new annuals and improved varieties flooding the market, but cast the subject of annuals in a refreshing light. The highlight was his discussion of the Dr. Seuss garden, a child-friendly garden containing fun and bizarre-looking annuals to inspire the imagination. Any initiative to encourage children to explore and engage in the natural world is a good one, so this endeavor sounds really fun. And, after all, who doesn’t like Dr. Seuss’ wild and wacky creations?