Some of the plants highlighted in “Biophilia: Sharing Our #plantlove,” the Conservatory exhibit sharing our curators’ most fascinating plants, protect themselves with spines, stings, and more. This is definitely a case of “look but don’t touch!”
Thorns, spines, and prickles: Pointy protuberances stab predators as they approach.
Armor: The thickened, waxy skin of many succulent plants adds a layer of protection from herbivores.
Stings: Minuscule needles of the mineral calcium oxalate are found in a wide variety of plants, from philodendrons to agave (which is used to make tequila). The sharp crystals irritate the skin and can be toxic when eaten. Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are covered in tiny fibers with sharp points that irritate and inject toxins into the skin.
“To grow your own food gives you power and dignity. You know exactly what you’re eating because you grew it. It’s good, it’s nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community.” —Karen Washington
Since 1985, Karen Washington has strived to make the Bronx and NYC at large a better place to live, spending decades promoting urban farming as a way for all New Yorkers to access fresh, locally grown food—and inspiring countless people as she’s grown into an advocate and leader in the field. Now, filmmaker Kate Walker is working to document Washington’s story and its connection to the larger social justice movement.
Matthew C. Pace, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at The New York Botanical Garden.
In our Steere Herbarium, a combination of capturing ultra high-resolution images of specimens and entering detailed information about each specimen in a searchable database is making this scientific collection easily available to anyone with an internet connection. Among other benefits, this online resource will help researchers overcome the acute problem of access to specimens of threatened and endangered species. Deeper understanding of the various adaptations of the species and their evolution will make it possible to design better conservation and management strategies. The public’s interest in these charismatic and captivating plants also affords an opportunity to engage students and teachers in discussions about biodiversity and its preservation, plant adaptations, and mutually beneficial species relationships. Additionally, the availability of two million digitized records will enhance the education and enjoyment of citizen scientists, horticultural hobbyists, and other non-academic enthusiasts.
Matthew C. Pace, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at The New York Botanical Garden.
Focusing on some of Earth’s most interesting and endangered plant species, NYBG is leading a network of 17 collaborating U.S. research institutions that will digitize more than two million preserved plant specimens over the next three years to make this invaluable scientific resource easily available online to plant and conservation researchers, students, and the general public.
The project, “Digitizing ‘endless forms’: Facilitating Research on Imperiled Plants with Extreme Morphologies,” will concentrate on 15 plant families containing species that are carnivorous or succulent or that grow on other plants, known as epiphytes. Among the several hundred thousand species included in the project are such iconic and unusual plants as the Venus’s flytrap, the giant saguaro cactus, and the leafless ghost orchid of southern Florida. All of the species in the project display, in one way or another, remarkably varied types of adaptations that allow them to grow in extreme environments, including deserts, tropical rain forests, and nutrient-poor bogs. Many of these plants can be challenging to study in the wild and confront elevated conservation threats in the face of rapid environmental change.
Peter Szilagyi is a Junior Mellon Fellow at the Humanities Institute, NYBG, Summer 2019.
On Friday, June 21, 2019, The New York Botanical Garden partnered with the Poetry Society of America to bring a daylong celebration of the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop to the Bronx. Many of Bishop’s original poems and translations of Brazilian poets can be read on billboards set up throughout the Garden right now as complements to the current exhibit, Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx. Bishop spent what she regarded as the happiest years of her life in Brazil, where she came to know Burle Marx through her partner Lota de Macedo Soares, who, like Burle Marx, was a prominent Brazilian architect and landscape architect in the second half of the 20th century.
Jane Dorfman is a former Mertz Library Reference Librarian & Exhibitions Coordinator and current NYBG Volunteer.
After Bassett Maguire’s death, Celia Maguire worked tirelessly to ensure her husband’s scientific legacy. She did so by organizing the vast amount of his personal and professional papers and material and, with the assistance and support of the Mertz Library, made the Bassett Maguire Archive a reality.
When Stephen Sinon, William B. O’Connor Curator of Special Collections, Research and Archives, invited me to work on the Bassett Maguire Archive project, it never occurred to me that I would spend nearly 1,000 hours over four years sifting through more than 100 boxes and several carts filled with personal and professional papers, artifacts, slides, photographs, maps, and masks, plus worldwide correspondence from prominent scientists, as well as from his two wives and mother. At times it was a bit overwhelming and I often felt, with this mountain of boxes in front of me, that Dr. Maguire’s “Lost World” of Cerro de la Neblina, was my lost world too.
Victoria Johnson, Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College, studied at The New York Botanical Garden’s Humanities Institute during the summer of 2016 as a Mellon Visiting Scholar, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Dr. Johnson conducted research for her biography of David Hosack (1769-1835), an American doctor best known today as the attending physician at the July 1804 duel between his friends Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. In 1801, Hosack founded the Elgin Botanic Garden, a pioneering medical research garden where he amassed thousands of native and non-native species and trained a generation of doctors and botanists. His former land is now the site of Rockefeller Center.
In her research at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library and Archives, Dr. Johnson drew on primary sources connected with Hosack’s life and work, including plant catalogues from the Elgin Botanic Garden and botanical treatises Hosack had brought back from his studies in Britain as a young doctor. She also studied archival sources connected with Hosack’s botany students as well as dried plant specimens collected for the Elgin Botanic Garden by Hosack and his students (held today by the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium).
Dr. Johnson’s work was published in 2018 as American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Liveright/W. W. Norton, 2018). The book was named a Notable Book of 2018 by the New York Times and was one of five finalists for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction. For more information, see americaneden.org.
By Kristine Paulus, Plant Records Manager; Deanna F. Curtis, Senior Curator of Woody Plants and Landscape Project Manager; and Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections.
NYBG’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark landscape and two glasshouses feature 50 gardens and collections that comprise more than one million plants. Well-maintained and displayed collections show the diversity of the plant kingdom and enrich the experience of all who see them. Beautiful displays make visitors stop and examine plants more closely and learn more from their experience, thus fulfilling NYBG’s mission. More than 90% of the plant collections are accessible to visitors every day the Garden is open. All of the plants in the collections are available for research purposes as needed by members of NYBG’s Science Division staff.
Collections are displayed in many ways. They may be incorporated into the landscape, as are the conifers in the Benenson Ornamental Conifers, featured within dedicated gardens, such as the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, presented in organized beds, such as Daylily/Daffodil Walk, or combined in educationally themed and interpreted displays, as in the Upland Tropical Rain Forest Gallery of the Haupt Conservatory. Additionally, collections are displayed in themed exhibitions, such as the annual Orchid Show.
The Palms of the World Gallery is one of the Conservatory’s 11 interconnected galleries, each featuring a different botanical habitat and specimens from around the globe. The Gallery displays New World and Old World palms, cycads, ferns, warmclimate monocots, and a variety of ground covers. Several specimens were cultivated from seed collected by NYBG horticulturists and scientists in the field.
As with all its permanent collections, the Garden is committed to the rigorous stewardship of the living plant collections in the Conservatory, entitled A World of Plants. Collections in glasshouses present a unique set of horticultural opportunities and challenges. The Conservatory provides protection from the elements, warm temperatures, and high humidity, so plants may be cultivated that would not survive outdoors in New York City. Adjustments are made throughout the year, including shading in summer to prevent temperatures inside the Conservatory from becoming too warm for visitors and unbearable for plants.
Because its habitats are designed specifically for palms and other warm-climate plants, the Conservatory requires its horticulturists to monitor plant vigor and ensure healthy soils through periodic rejuvenation and replenishment. Palms present a particular set of challenges when cultivated indoors because most varieties have primary growing points on top of their stems. Some inevitably grow too tall for the enclosure, requiring their removal and replacement with younger specimens.
The palm dome restoration provides NYBG curators the opportunity to perform essential horticultural work on the collection housed in the Palms of the World Gallery. Marc Hachadourian, NYBG’s Director of Glasshouse Horticulture and Senior Curator of Orchids, and Tropical Plant Curator Emerita Francisca Coelho developed a plan that preserves and protects important specimens while introducing new plants. Nearly 180 plants in the Gallery will be preserved in place or transplanted during the restoration process.
This article originally appeared as part of the Spring-Summer 2019 issue of Garden News, NYBG’s seasonal newsletter. For further reading, view the issue online and discover a sampling of stories about current programs and undertaking at the Garden.
Starting April 29, the iconic dome of the 117-year-old, glass-and-steel Enid A. Haupt Conservatory will undergo restoration in accordance with routine maintenance and operations of the Garden’s facilities. The great Conservatory, the centerpiece and symbol of NYBG, is the preeminent existing American example of the crystal palace glass-and-steel school of design developed in England and Ireland in the mid-19th century. It is the most important glasshouse in the country and one of the most beautiful in the world. Shortly after the Garden’s founding by eminent botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, bryologist Elizabeth Knight Britton, the Board of Trustees authorized the building of the Conservatory, which has required constant maintenance and repair due to the tenuous balance of glass, wood, and metals subject to the heat and moisture required by indoor plants and the constantly changing external weather conditions of New York.