Inside The New York Botanical Garden

September’s Gardening Soundtrack

Posted in Horticulture on September 11 2014, by Kristine Paulus

Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager. She is responsible for the curation of The Lionel Goldfrank III Computerized Catalog of the Living Collections. She manages nomenclature standards and the plant labels for all exhibitions, gardens, and collections, while coordinating with staff, scientists, students and the public on all garden related plant information.

Palm Dome NYBG

I recently became the Plant Records Manager here at NYBG, and when I was offered the position I thought I would be spinning plant records as a DJ at the Orchid Dinner and the Conservatory Ball. Just kidding! However, while I was fully prepared to take on the massive task of keeping tabs on the Garden’s living collections, I still secretly harbor a desire to play plant records—that is to say, to play records (or CDs, or MP3s, or whatever is en vogue now) about plants.

There’s so much good music out there about plants! Sure, there are tons of vague ditties about generic flowers (blue flowers, red flowers, wild flowers, where flowers have gone, and not getting flowers anymore) but I get particularly excited about songs that allow me to “botanize” because they’re about specific plants. Songs about plants that grow here at The New York Botanical Garden are even better.

helianthus divaricatus
Helianthus divaricatus

I especially enjoy Robert Plant because of his excellent surname, but also because he was the front man for Led Zeppelin. His 1993 solo album Fate of Nations features the lesser known song “29 Palms.” Although the song is named for a small California town, that town is named for plants in the Arecaceae family that grow there. If you’re not traveling to 29 Palms any time soon, you can stop by the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory to see the many beautiful palms in the Palm Dome and other parts of this magnificent glasshouse (and there are way more than 29 of them). Palms are some of our oldest plants and, despite popular belief, are not actually trees!

Although they sound melancholy in the ballad “Sunflowers” by Low, the perennial woodland sunflower Helianthus divaricatus growing at the Native Plant Garden is sure to brighten any day. Both drought tolerant and deer resistant, this happy yellow face will bring birds and butterflies to your garden. Agreeing with Low, I think they are “sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet.”

Nelumbo nucifera
Nelumbo nucifera

As with many a plant record, Radiohead draws a metaphor between love and flowers in “Lotus Flower.” You might experience a similar passion for Nelumbo nucifera. Floating as if by magic in the pools behind the Conservatory, the giant flowers of this aquatic plant have their roots in the soil at the bottom of the pool. The dried seed heads are popular in flower arrangements and many parts of the plant are even edible. You can find them “swimming” along with our friendly koi.

Nepeta is a “kitty cat drug” in Shonen Knife’s catchy tune “Catnip Dream” and can cause some felines to act in a silly manner. There are no cats here, but Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ in the Perennial Garden is a favorite of bees and you will frequently find them buzzed out on this fragrant mint.

Nepeta racemosa
Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’

However, if you left your earbuds at home, there is plenty of auditory pleasure to be experienced throughout the Garden from the plants themselves. For instance, the papery swish of Hakonachloa macra (Hakone or Japanese forest grass) offers a satisfying sound as you brush past it. You can hear these in the Perennial Garden, Home Gardening Center, and Azalea Garden. Likewise, Lindera benzoin (northern spicebush) provides a natural soundtrack as persistent leaves rustle in the wind throughout the fall and winter. Listen to them in the Thain Family Forest, the Native Plant Garden, and other areas. Whether your horticultural soundtrack is natural or not, the Garden’s living collections enthrall all the senses!


Nancy Gardiner said:

Kristine you are really on to something with your plant records playlist–may I nominate Iris (Goo Goo Dolls) and the White Stripes’ Blue Orchid(clearly a tribute to the Vanda. Not one of those phony supermarket blue dendro things.)

Amy W. said:

I’ve been “collecting” songs about plants for about 10 years now and have come to the conclusion that Rosaceae is the most often sung about plant family. One of my favorites is Underneath the Weeping Willow by Grandaddy ( ). We have lots of weeping trees around NYBG, although I don’t recall ever seeing a willow.

Kristine Paulus said:

Nancy, these are great songs (and bands) that I hadn’t thought of. I’m totally adding them to my list – thank you! There isn’t enough music about beautiful Vandas!

Kim Tinsley said:


Welcome to NYBG! I really enjoyed your article. You might want to add to your plant records playlist “Sunflowers” from the Wynton Marsalis Septet Marciac Suite…

Marilyn Hildebrand said:

Hello! I just discovered your website and felt compelled to write to you! For the first 25 years of my life (I am now 84) I lived in the 200 family apartment house adjacent to the Botanical Gardens New York Central train station. The apartment house was called Botanical Garden Arms at that time. At age 25 I married and moved to Dayton, Ohio and have lived here-abouts since then. I have often thought of when I was 10-12 or 13 years old; perhaps younger, my friends and I would visit the Botanical Gardens – both the museum and the green houses and spend the better part of the day there. I really believe I developed my love of gardening and flowers while visiting the Gardens. We certainly didn’t have any place for individual gardens in the apartment building. Thank you for your influence! The love of gardening has been passed down to my children and grandchildren.

Barbara Reiner said:

congratulations on your position at NYBG….great post….

Kristine Paulus said:

Wow! These are all great suggestions! I think I may have to write another blog post! Or maybe have a listening party…

Kristine Paulus said:

Amy, you will be happy to know that there is a weeping willow cultivar, Salix alba ‘Tristis’ in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden! It’s by the Habitat Hub/Pond Gallery.

Patricia Gonzalez said:

Kristine, this was a great piece. Please, write some more!