Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Horticulture

Revitalizing the Garden of Youth

Posted in Horticulture on September 26 2017, by Ursula Chanse

Ursula Chanse is the Director of Bronx Green-Up and Community Horticulture and Project Director for NYC Compost Project hosted by The New York Botanical Garden. For more information about these programs and upcoming workshops and events, please visit Bronx Green-Up.


Photo: Ryan Struck

This past June, Bronx Green-Up, the Botanical Garden’s community gardening program since 1988, led a major transformation in the Crotona neighborhood of the Bronx. In partnership with In Good Company (an alliance of like-minded companies founded by Clif Bar), La Familia Verde, and the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, the Garden of Youth underwent a much-needed revitalization.

This was Bronx Green-Up’s sixth In Good Company collaboration and past projects have included creating a rain garden at Brook Park, a chicken coop at Taqwa Community Farm, and a complete renovation of the Neighborhood Advisory Community Garden.

A newly released video—which you can watch below—tells the story of our exciting week and highlights the hard work, determination, and commitment of volunteers, staff, and community members to transform this corner lot into a flourishing garden.

The Life of a Labeler

Posted in Horticulture on September 13 2017, by Kristine Paulus

Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager and Becky Thorp is the Senior Plant Recorder. They are responsible for maintaining the records of the Garden’s living collections.


Lush green lawns, majestic trees, and artfully designed flower gardens may be the first thing visitors notice when they arrive at NYBG, but as a botanical garden, our mission goes well beyond the creation of a beatiful landscape. For 125 years, NYBG has served as a cultural and educational institution where anyone can learn about horticulture and botany. One of the simplest and most effective ways we carry out this part of our mission is through the documentation, tracking, and labeling of plants. Just as visitors to an art museum learn to tell a Titian from a Twombly by reading display labels next to each work, botanical garden-goers learn to differentiate a tulip from a trillium by looking at plant labels.

Various plant labels from NYBG's history.

Every aspect of labeling the garden’s tens of thousands of plants, including research, database work, production, and placement of labels in the landscape, is managed by the Plant Records Department.

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What’s in a Plant Name? Scaevola aemula

Posted in Horticulture on August 30 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.


A shot of Scaevola aemula.
Scaevola aemula ‘Blue Fan’ near the tropical water lilies

Dale Chihuly has said that he enjoys displaying his art in botanical gardens because they can bring plant lovers a greater appreciation of art and vice versa.

I see this concept at work in NYBG’s CHIHULY exhibition. As you enter the Conservatory Courtyards to see Koda Study #3, you are treated to planters filled with complementary flowers. Quite striking is Scaevola ‘Blue Fan’, an annual whose common name is fanflower or, even more imaginatively, fairy fanflower. As you look down at the flower, it looks as though it has been cut in two; there is only half of a corolla tube But look closer and instead of a fan, you may see a left hand with five fingers.

As usual, I find the Latin name to be so much more exciting than the common name: Scaevola means “left-handed,” and aemula means “to imitate.”

Both Linnaeus (1707–1778), who is credited with naming the genus Scaevola, and Robert Brown (1773–1858), who named the species Scaevola aemula, most certainly knew the famous story of the Roman soldier Gaius Mucius: a man so brave that he thrust his right hand into fire and let it burn into uselessness to demonstrate his bravery when he was captured by the enemy. Astonished, the enemy released Gaius Mucius and, after that, he and his descendants were tagged with the surname of Scaevola. Even today, school children in Italy are familiar with this story.

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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.

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Saving Our Swamplands

Posted in Horticulture on February 15 2017, by Kristine Paulus

Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager. She is responsible for the curation of The Lionel Goldfrank III Computerized Catalog of the Living Collections. She manages nomenclature standards and the plant labels for all exhibitions, gardens, and collections, while coordinating with staff, scientists, students, and the public on all garden-related plant information.


Frog in Mitsubishi Wetlands
Frog in Mitsubishi Wetlands

Swamps have an undeserved negative reputation, and it’s no help when the word is used as a derogatory metaphor. A swamp is a type of wetland, one of our most important ecosystems. Wetlands control flooding, filter pollutants, slow erosion, improve water quality, store carbon, and provide necessary habitat for a wide range of plants and wildlife.

The Mitsubishi Wild Wetland Trail, a diverse landscape at NYBG, contains three kinds of wetlands: freshwater marsh, pond, and swamp.

Found on all continents except Antarctica, swamps are a type of wetland which is dominated by trees and shrubs. Trees that grow here have adapted to growing in very wet soil. Woody vegetation growing in the swamp area of the Wetland Trail includes willow, maple, buttonbush, dawn-redwood, bald-cypress, alder, oak, dogwood, and more.

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A New Class of Grass

Posted in Horticulture, Kiku on October 21 2016, by Kristine Paulus

Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager. She is responsible for the curation of The Lionel Goldfrank III Computerized Catalog of the Living Collections. She manages nomenclature standards and the plant labels for all exhibitions, gardens, and collections, while coordinating with staff, scientists, students, and the public on all garden-related plant information.


Kiku The Art of the Japanese GardenIf the idea of grass makes you think of dreaded after school yard chores or monotonous sports fields, consider a visit to Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden to amend this assessment.  Attempting to steal the spotlight from the chrysanthemums are several decorative members of the Poaceae family, better known to most of us as grasses.

Several plantings of Muhlenbergia capillaris, a highly ornamental native grass commonly called hairawn muhly, create a spectacular floral display for fall throughout the exhibition. Clouds of airy, purple-pink cotton candy-like flowers float above long slender foliage. These hazy panicles glow in the sunlight, converting garden beds into dreamscapes. Hardy and heat- and drought-tolerant, hairawn muhly is as low maintenance as it is attractive.  This colorful plant is also a highlight in the Home Gardening Center’s newly redesigned Grass and Bamboo Garden.

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Visiting a Summer Shakespeare Garden

Posted in Horticulture on August 25 2016, by Joyce Newman

Joyce H. Newman is an environmental journalist and teacher. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden.


LiliesRosemallowcreditLarryBoes-headerDedicated 100 years ago in 1916 (on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death), the Central Park Shakespeare Garden is one of the best Shakespeare gardens in the world. It was fully restored by the Central Park Conservancy in 1987 and is a great local getaway for plant and poetry lovers.

Landscape designers Bruce Kelly and David Varnell, hired by the Conservancy, expanded the area to four acres—repaving paths, adding lovely bronze plaques with Shakespeare quotations, and installing rustic fences and wooden benches (recently replaced by the Conservancy with newer versions).

The basic footprint of the garden has remained the same since the 1987 restoration, says the Conservancy’s Senior Gardener, Larry Boes. When he became the gardener in 2008, he moved several of the Shakespeare plaques to locations where he could actually grow the plants mentioned.

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A Weed by Any Other Name

Posted in Horticulture on August 16 2016, by Kristine Paulus

Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager. She is responsible for the curation of The Lionel Goldfrank III Computerized Catalog of the Living Collections. She manages nomenclature standards and the plant labels for all exhibitions, gardens, and collections, while coordinating with staff, scientists, students, and the public on all garden-related plant information.


Pontederia cordataThere are some words that gardeners would rather eradicate from their lexicon. “Weed” is one of them, whether a noun or a verb. Although the definition of weed is subject to debate (some define it as any plant growing where it’s not wanted, therefore a rose growing in a cabbage patch might be considered a weed), and can have multiple meanings (such as a widow’s mourning garments, but that’s a discussion for another time), most people think of a weed as a plant with little value.

So when is a weed not a weed? Many common names for plants include the word “weed” and are often associated with plants that we consider nuisances like bindweed or knotweed. However, quite a few likeable plants, such as native plants and those that are beneficial to pollinators, also contain the word “weed” in their name. Botanists and horticulturists tend to avoid the use of common names because they cause confusion. These vernacular terms vary by region and culture but also the same word can be used for multiple species. Since plants have only one botanical name accepted around the world, it’s a much more accurate term.

So which “weeds” are keepers?

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Turf Care Tips from the Experts

Posted in Horticulture on August 1 2016, by Matthew Cook

Matthew Cook is the Manager for Arboretum & Grounds at The New York Botanical Garden.


Tulip Tree Allée

Maintaining a healthy lawn through the unrelenting heat of summer isn’t easy. As with any other plant or plant community, stress increases susceptibility to diseases and reduces the ability to recover from injury. High daytime heat, as well as warm overnight temperatures provide more than enough additional stress to negatively impact your turf. Below are just a few steps that can help your lawn get through the summer.

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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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