On April 27, 2018 the Humanities Institute hosted Japan Study Day, a day of celebrating Japanese arts and sciences in the field of natural history and garden design. Visitors were welcomed with a soft misty rain, here and there mixed with a few pink petals, as they entered the Garden that morning. Due to the unusually cold spring, the Cherry Trees happened to be at their peak bloom. It was a perfect day for the traditional celebration of ‘Sakura,’ the flowering of the Cherry Trees. Japan Study Day participants were invited to join a conversation led by a brilliant panel of speakers from around the globe. Leading the conversation was Prof. Federico Marcon, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University; Prof. Harmen Beukers from the Scaliger Institute, Leiden, the Netherlands and the University of Nagasaki; and Ryosuke Kondo, Ph.D. candidate from the Department of Landscape Architecture, Tokyo University.
Crowd-sourcing is a term that has been popularized in recent years. One example of crowd-sourcing is the Purposeful Gaming and BHL project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Studies (IMLS) in 2013. The Mertz Library at NYBG is one of the partners on this grant project along with Missouri Botanical Garden (the lead institution), Cornell University, and the Ernst Mayr Library of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. The crowd-sourcing component of the project involves devising ways to recruit the world-wide public to improve the accuracy of transcriptions of digitized material in BHL. Another component of the project is the digitization of previously unavailable seed and nursery catalogs from the collections of the libraries at NYBG and Cornell University.
Ed. note: Getting a heads-up from the folks in the LuEsther T. Mertz library is always a treat, if only because we never know what kind of surprise they’re going to pass along. Often it’s an interesting bit of history in the form of an old landscaping book, or a quirky tome on classical botany. This time around, however, the history in question is far more visual. Library Director Susan Fraser was kind enough to explain the how and when of the colorful collection that recently fell into their laps.
The Mertz Library recently received a collection of research material from the estate of J. Louise Mastrantonio, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon and California from 1961 through 1986. After retiring, she began researching the history of the American nursery industry and compiled a collection of artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th century. In time, she began writing a book about the nursery trade, though she died before completing it.
This collection came to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library as a bequest from Mastrantonio’s estate, and includes nursery and seed trade catalogs, seed packets, postcards, advertising art, and wooden seed display boxes (known as commission boxes). Among the literature included are books, agriculture newspapers, and photographs–including 10 stereoscope images.
While the NYBG‘s Library is home to a wealth of rare botanical texts, we occasionally come into possession of something which explores taxonomy on a much broader level. Loosely translated from Latin, The New History of Plants, Animals and Minerals of Mexico is one such example, diving into seventeenth-century zoological studies with a certain flair.
There are many inexplicable species drawings in Francisco Hernández’s pre-Linnaean work Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia (1651), which was digitized at The New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library as part of its multiyear Global Plants Initiative project, generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
In fact, in some cases, the animals depicted seem more inspired fantasy than scientific discovery. Take Dracunculus Monoceros:
Thomas Alva Edison died on October 18, 1931–eighty years ago today.
In the late 1920s, Edison was deeply engaged in plant research. His goal was to discover a domestic source of rubber, a plant that might produce better material than what was available at the time. (The plant turned out to be goldenrod.)
This effort was spearheaded by the Edison Botanical Corporation and funded by Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Research was done by the corporation and by Edison himself at The New York Botanical Garden as well as at Edison’s labs in West Orange, N.J. and Fort Myers, Florida. The great inventor spent several years periodically working at the Garden and its Library, along with assistants John Kunkel Small, Barukh Jonas, William H. Meadowcroft, and others.
Featured in the BHL Books collection is the atlas from Jean Gourdon and Philibert Naudin’s 1871 work Nouvelle iconographie fourragère: histoire botanique, économique et agricole des plantes fourragères et des plantes nuisibles qui se rencontrent dans les prairies et les paturages : avec planches gravées sur cuivre et coloriées / par J. Gourdon, P. Naudin. This item was digitized in 2009 by The New York Botanical Garden’s Mertz Library.
The atlas includes an illustration of a coquelicot, or corn poppy:
(Side note: also in the 1870s, in Argenteuil, France, Claude Monet painted his famous Coquelicots (Poppies), which today resides at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.)
The Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of twelve natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library is a BHL partner.
The Floral Flyer ran on weekends and holidays at The New York Botanical Garden from May 1949 until the early 1970s, when it was taken out of service. The Flyer is a precursor to the Tram available to today’s Garden visitors. Current tram operation began in the early 1990s and it is available daily.
An announcement about The Floral Flyer first appears in the April 1949 issue of The Journal of The New York Botanical Garden:
“OPERATION of a three-car tractor train around the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden is scheduled to begin in May, provided the roadway now nearing completion over the new bridge across the Bronx River is ready for use by that time. The train, which is similar to those borrowed from the Zoo for tours of the grounds during Garden Week in May 1945, is the gift of Mrs. Harold Irving Pratt, who played a prominent part in the plans for the Botanical Garden’s 50th Anniversary celebration at that time. It is to be named the Floral Flyer.
“Each of the three cars will hold 16 passengers. While the train’s schedule and route have not yet been determined, it is expected that it will go to the Conservatory, along the road through the woods to the new bridge in the vicinity of the Rose Garden, north from the Rose Garden along the gorge of the Bronx River, skirting the Hemlock Forest, the collections of deciduous trees, and the magnolias, then turning westward over the boulder bridge and south to the Museum building.”
Mrs. Pratt herself christened The Floral Flyer on May 26 using a watering can filled with daylilies “as emblematic of the New York Botanical Garden’s scientific and horticultural accomplishments.”
The Flyer made more than one thousand round-trips over the Memorial Day weekend, in 1949. The fare that first summer for non-members was twenty cents for a twenty-minute, gas-powered ride. The cost of a modern day tram ride is included in the price of All-Garden Pass or Membership.