Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Stevenson Swanson

Uncovering Rockefeller Center’s Historic Botanical Garden

Posted in History on November 28 2018, by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is Associate Director of Public Relations at The New York Botanical Garden.

Photo of 30 Rock replica
30 Rockefeller Center in the Holiday Train Show

Of the more than 175 New York landmarks in this year’s Holiday Train Show®, it’s particularly appropriate that Rockefeller Center’s soaring Art Deco skyscraper and other well-known features are included in NYBG’s annual display of building replicas made of bark, leaves, and natural materials. More than 200 years ago, a botanist-physician named David Hosack established one of America’s first public botanical gardens on Rockefeller Center’s site, cultivating rare and important plants on land that is now home to America’s most famous cluster of skyscrapers, shops, galleries, and, during the holidays, a towering, glittering Christmas tree overlooking the bustling plaza.

Dr. Hosack’s life and the story of his pioneering botanical garden are the subject of American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic, by Victoria Johnson, which was a non-fiction finalist for this year’s National Book Award and was recently named one of 2018’s 100 most notable books by The New York Times Book Review.

Born in colonial New York City in 1769, Hosack came of age as the young United States began to establish itself. “It fell to Hosack’s generation to build the civic institutions that would guarantee the future health and prosperity of the Republic,” writes Johnson, a Hunter College professor who conducted much of the research for her book at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library and William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, both of which have important collections of original Hosack material, including some of his preserved plant specimens.

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The Science of Stink

Posted in Horticulture on July 29 2016, by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.

Corpse FlowerAh, New York in the summer. So many fetid fragrances fill the air. The garbage on the sidewalk, the hot blast of exhaust from a passing bus, the dank odor of the subway—these and even less savory sources best left to the imagination all add their odors to the city’s atmosphere on a hot, humid day.

That makes it all the more remarkable that thousands of New Yorkers have flocked to The New York Botanical Garden to see the corpse flower that is now blooming in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Apart from its size and striking appearance, the plant is notable for its stench, often compared to the smell of rotting flesh, which is the clever ploy it has evolved to attract pollinators.

Perhaps the fact that the plant blooms so infrequently and unpredictably draws most people, but many seem fascinated by the phenomenon that something in nature would smell this bad on purpose.

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