Plant Talk

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

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
Picture 1 of 7

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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).

Read More

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'
Picture 1 of 5

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.

Anna Botsford Comstock: Trailblazer in Nature Education

Posted in From the Library on June 16 2017, by Samantha D’Acunto

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


Anna ComstockOn September 1, 1854 in Cattaraugua County, New York, a girl by the name of Anna Botsford was born. It wouldn’t be until many years later that her name would be recognized and respected. Anna was fascinated with nature ever since she was a child, and her interest in the subject followed her as she entered the newly established Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

As she studied and attended lectures, Anna found herself particularly enthralled with a young entomology professor named John Henry Comstock. Encouraging Anna to cultivate her already strong understanding and interest in nature, John recruited her to assist him with his research. Anna was a skilled illustrator. Her ink and pen illustrations of insects were detailed and accurate, making them some of the most authoritative images for insect identification at the time. As the two worked closely and intimately on various projects, a spark of romance developed; by 1878 the two were married. Anna continued her studies at Cornell University and by 1885 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree.

Read More

What’s Beautiful Now: Summer Heat

Posted in What's Beautiful Now on June 12 2017, by Matt Newman

While the herbaceous peonies that held the spotlight until now have bid us adieu for another spring, the Rockefeller Rose Garden quickly stepped in to take the stage, boasting thousands of beautiful flowers as the heat picks up at the Garden. Summer’s approach means a lush and sunny 250 acres to explore at NYBG, so grab your sunglasses and head outside!

Rose Garden

Rose Garden
Picture 1 of 5

The Rose Garden is enjoying its first flush of color for the season! Make sure you don’t miss this garden at its peak.