Inside The New York Botanical Garden

From the Library

The Junior Mellon Fellow Research Presentations—Summer 2018

Posted in Humanities Institute on September 14 2018, by Vanessa Sellers

Samantha D’Acunto and Vanessa Sellers, Humanities Institute, Mertz Library


Dr. Ina Vandebroek and Keren Alfred at the Junior Mellon Fellows Presentation
Dr. Ina Vandebroek and Keren Alfred at the Junior Mellon Fellows Presentation

Each summer the Humanities Institute, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, welcomes Junior Mellon Fellows to conduct their own research at the New York Botanical Garden. They are invited to discover the resources held at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, its Archives, the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and the Garden’s Living Collections. As they prepare to leave after their summer of research, they are asked to present their findings to colleagues, NYBG staff, their institutional advisors and professors from surrounding universities, as well as an interested public audience.

On Friday, August 17th Keren Alfred, a recent graduate from Brown University, and Vanessa Sun, a current student at the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College prepared to share their findings. As an introduction to her presentation The Development of Jamaican Root Tonics, Keren Alfred offered a taste of various Jamaican tonics at the reception’s refreshment table, which was enjoyed by all. These tasty fermented beverages are used widely throughout Jamaica and Jamaican communities as health aids of various kinds, she explained. Working together with Dr. Ina Vandebroek, Matthew Calbraith Perry Associate Curator of Economic Botany and Caribbean Program Director, Keren spent the summer looking at the development of root tonics from an ethnobotanical, community-health, and cultural-historical point of view Using historical literature on Jamaican plants from the Mertz Library, Alfred set out to discover when tonics were first developed or introduced in Jamaica. She found the earliest reference to tonics to be dating back only to 1927, more recently than expected, while it was not until 1953 that the word “tonic” itself was actually used to describe the plant-based beverages Sarsaparilla smilex and Smilex aspera were among the plants singled out by Alfred’s research as key ingredients to root tonic.

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The Evolution of Beauty

Posted in From the Library on September 13 2018, 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.


The Evolution of BeautyIn The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—and Us, Richard O. Prum brings readers on a journey to understand the diversity of beauty in nature, and the evolutionary reasons for its existence. An ornithologist, Prum first focuses on avian ornamentation and attraction—a field with which he is intimately familiar; second on humans and our closer relatives—arguably a more theoretical undertaking. Prum follows Darwin’s theory of sexual selection which posits that “mate preferences can evolve for arbitrarily attractive traits that do not provide additional benefits to mate choice,” essentially (and very simplistically), a theory of beauty for the sake of beauty. While not necessarily at odds with Darwin’s theory of evolution, Victorian audiences rejected this theory based primarily on the disbelief that animals could discern beauty, and therefore disbelief that female individuals could use the metric of beauty to be agents of their species’ evolutionary progression.

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Edible Plants: From Field to Garden

Posted in From the Library on September 6 2018, 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.


Veggie Garden RemixThese three new books in the Mertz Library focus on growing, foraging, and cooking edible plants. Each offers a different perspective on human and plant interactions, and will inspire readers to think about new recipes and garden ideas.

Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix: 224 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor, and Fun (2018) by gardener, author, and The Weekend Gardener radio show host (and creator) Niki Jabbour offers vegetable gardeners some new ideas to try alongside tried and true North American garden favorites. A laundry list of interesting varieties and cultivars, Veggie Garden Remix is a simple book, yet will be fun for those who like to try something a little different in their gardens. The book doesn’t include information about where to source particular varieties or cultivars from; readers may wish to investigate Seed Savers Exchange for hard-to-find recommendations.

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Gardening for the Senses

Posted in From the Library on August 30 2018, 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.


Tovah MartinThe garden as a place of meditation and connection to the natural world is a popular theme in garden literature. These three books emphasize the ways in which the garden can be a place of health—both for people and for other organisms.

Anything written by Tovah Martin is a treat, and The Garden in Every Sense and Season (2018) is no exception. A chronicle of her garden throughout the year, it is a sensory journal—an experiential narrative that is evocative of gardens known, remembered, and imagined. This is not a step-by-step how-to book, but rather a window into Martin’s year in the garden. Readers will feel like they are following along as she completes her seasonal tasks, listening to thoughtful and confident advice about garden chores. While not every seasonal task is mentioned, Martin’s experience and advice offer insight into how she gardens and food for thought for others who are fortunate enough to do so as well. More text-heavy than most contemporary gardening books, it is in some ways a collection of sensory essays—the challenges and successes of a gardener’s year.

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Japan Study Day at NYBG

Posted in Humanities Institute on August 16 2018, by Mertz Library

Cherry trees
Cherry trees in full bloom on Cherry Hill at the New York Botanical Garden

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.

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The Biography of a Gardener

Posted in From the Library on August 14 2018, 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.


Plant MessiahWithin horticulture and botany, the genre of biography (including autobiography) is a popular one. Three new biographical titles are available for check-out in the NYBG Mertz Library and merit consideration.

The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species is a memoir by Carlos Magdalena. Currently the Tropical Senior Botanical Horticulturist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, he was recently profiled in an excellent piece by People of London about his work with plant propagation and conservation. The Plant Messiah chronicles Magdalena’s trials and successes with propagating rare and endangered plants. His passion is sure to resonate with those who love plants and value biodiversity. A graduate of the Kew Diploma in Horticulture program, Magdalena’s experiences with “rescuing” species from the brink of extinction are fascinating and, at times, emotional. The text has a few minor errors (for example, type specimen receives a simplistic and technically incorrect definition), but they do not detract from the overall narrative. Readers will hold their breaths as attempts to propagate specific plants fail at first, but ultimately succeed. This memoir is best enjoyed by those who have some knowledge of plants (and can take some errors in stride), but even the general public will enjoy the adventure.

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Digging Deep into Permaculture

Posted in From the Library on August 9 2018, 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.


Gaias Garden Second EditionPermaculture is a fascinating topic, but it can be difficult to know where to start looking for information when you are new to the concept and want to learn more. Defined on Wikipedia as “a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems,” permaculture has applications in landscape and ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction, and site maintenance. Two books new to the NYBG Mertz Library, Gaia’s Garden (2009) and The Rodale Book of Composting (2018), offer practical advice for home gardeners who would like to include more sustainable features in their landscapes.

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (second edition, 2009) is a comprehensive introduction to permaculture principles and projects for the home gardener. Authored by Toby Hemenway, the work is centered on gardening practices in the Pacific Northwest but filled with concepts and projects that are appropriate for gardeners in any region. The ethos in Gaia’s Garden has carried through to many more contemporary gardening books, and this Nautilus Book Awards winner is still a relevant resource for those who are curious to learn more deeply about permaculture principles. One caveat related to the book’s age is that the plant lists should be examined critically before application—several of the recommended non-native species have been found to be problematic since the time of the book’s publication.

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Bathing in the Forest

Posted in From the Library on July 26 2018, 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.


Forest BathingForest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, by Dr. Qing Li, is an aesthetically pleasing book about “the Japanese art and science of shinrin-yoku.” Shinrin means “forest” in Japanese, and yoku means “bath.” Shinrin-yoku, then, is the action of “bathing” in the forest atmosphere—of “taking the forest in through our senses.”

Li, the Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, writes in a meditative, thoughtful manner, and offers simple advice for those who would like to experience the benefits of forest bathing, either through a more extreme lifestyle change or by incorporating more nature experiences into their everyday lives. With 100 color photographs and large fonts, the book itself is a calming meditation on forest spaces, and a pleasant respite from a day in the office.

The book is beautiful and well-designed, and readers can jump into the text at any point, or read it as a narrative work. Acolytes of forest bathing will want to depart for the woods immediately after reading, but even those without easy access to more natural spaces may be inspired to include more natural outings and experiences as parts of their routines. At NYBG, the Thain Family Forest is calling…

The Secret Life of Flies

Posted in From the Library on July 5 2018, 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.


The Secret Life of FliesThe Secret Life of Flies by Dr. Erica McAlister for Firefly books is fun. It’s a little gross, very entertaining, and all about that insect that so many of us love to hate—the fly! McAlister, a Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom, uses her book’s 248 pages to champion these “amazing, exotic and important” creatures. It’s no small feat for an experienced researcher to write in a way that is accessible to a non-scientific audience, and McAlister accomplishes this. When reading her words, one almost feels as if she’s engaging the reader in a conversation, beckoning them closer to look at a maggot that showed up in a most unusual place or at a parasitic fly that prefers the company of frogs.

The Secret Life of Flies is appropriate for anyone who wants to learn a bit more about these creatures, including younger and older readers who enjoy the sometimes gross and amusing ins and outs of biological study. It’s easy to picture a biology student, an outdoorsy ten-year-old, and an enthusiastic field biologist exclaiming with glee when finding out exactly where that mystery maggot came from. The Secret Life of Flies offers a wonderful window into a world that many of us take for granted and educates readers about an important group of creatures in our natural world.

Small Treasures in the Mertz Library: Signature of the Revolution

Posted in From the Library on July 3 2018, by Jane Lloyd

Jane Lloyd is a volunteer in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden.


Craik
Dr. James Craik (1730–1814)

William Craik (1703–1798), a former owner of a book in the Rare Book Room of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, was not a famous person, but he had an important influence on the founding of the United States. Craik signed his name and the year “1764” on the fly leaf of Statical Essays; Containing Vegetable Staticks; or an Account of some Statical Experiments on the Sap in Vegetables…, the third edition of which was published in 1738 by Stephen Hales (1677–1761).

Craik was the eldest son of a landowner in Arbigland, Scotland. When he inherited his father’s run-down estate in 1736, he set out to improve it by using new agricultural techniques and machinery, and Hales’s book would have been essential reading for him.

Craik had at least one illegitimate child—a son—before he married. That boy, James Craik (1730–1814), studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, then joined the British Army and served in the West Indies. In 1754 he joined the Virginia Provincial Regiment as a surgeon and saw action in the French and Indian War, serving with and becoming a close friend of George Washington, who eventually commanded the regiment.

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