Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Horticulture

The Loss of the Venerable Himalayan Pine

Posted in Horticulture on August 18 2018, by Garrett Barziloski

A message from Carrie Rebora Barratt, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer and William C. Steere Sr. President and Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections

We are very sad to report that one of NYBG’s most glorious and venerable trees was struck by lightning in last night’s storm.

During the storm, lightning severely damaged the majestic Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana) in the Arthur and Janet Ross Conifer Arboretum adjacent to the Leon Levy Visitor Center and Pine Tree Cafe. Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross VP for Horticulture and Living Collections, and his team of arborists arrived on the scene immediately and determined that the tree is beyond saving and will have to be removed.

Among the tens of thousands of trees that grace the Garden’s historic landscape, it was one of our most beloved. Planted in 1903, it had grown to be nearly 80 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of nearly three feet. It was a living tribute to NYBG’s long and distinguished history of bringing plants from around the world to the Bronx to delight Garden visitors and serve our conservation and education programs.

Himalayan pine is native to the snowy foothills of the Himalayas. It is celebrated for its graceful, pendulous branches and long, silvery-green needles. The Garden’s tree had particularly long needles and cones, a fact not lost on long-serving NYBG Trustees Arthur and Janet Ross, who visited this tree regularly and loved it so much that they decided to support the ongoing restoration of the Conifer Arboretum that now bears their names. This tree was so important to the Garden that the Visitor Center was designed around it.

While the tree will have to be removed, its legacy will live on. As part of our collections’ management and conservation process, nearly 20 years ago we took some scions (a type of cutting) from high in its canopy and had them grafted onto eastern white pine seedlings. One of these scions was planted on a hillside just behind the parent tree, where it grows today. One day, it may match the grace and beauty of the original specimen.

It will serve as a living reminder of the Garden’s commitment to conservation. Garden scientists are preparing herbarium specimens and preserved tissue samples of the Himalayan pine, so its evolutionary history and relationships can be better understood.

The entire NYBG community mourns the loss of this great and mighty tree, whose stately presence has welcomed millions of visitors to our urban oasis throughout its life.

The Truth About Foxgloves

Posted in Horticulture on June 11 2018, by Joyce Newman

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


In June, purple foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are in bloom at NYBG. Tall, striking spires with dozens of little finger-shaped blooms, foxgloves are native all across western Europe. Traditionally cultivated in English borders, there are about 20 different species. They bloom in colors from yellows, pinks, lavenders, and whites to purple, with dark spots inside the blooms.

The leaves form in large clusters during the first year, and there are no blooms. Large and fuzzy green, they look a bit like sage or even spinach. In the second year, the blooms appear and the seeds can eventually be collected for re-planting, or they may naturalize.

Totally Toxic

A folk myth about foxgloves claims that the foxes who make dens in the woodland hills wear the flowers on their paws when they attack rural villagers. Sometimes called “witches’ gloves,” the plant’s toxicity was known for centuries by herbalists. Other common names for the plant are also a dead giveaway to its potent effects, including “witches’ thimbles” and “dead man’s bells”.

The entire plant is poisonous, according to experts. But the leaves, in particular, contain more concentrated toxins.

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Desert Oasis

Posted in Horticulture on February 16 2018, by James Sigala

James Sigala is a horticulturist in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at The New York Botanical Garden.


AloeIt’s a wonderful time of the year to visit the desert glasshouses at NYBG’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. In the African Desert collection, a colorful and exotic array of inflorescences awaits you, such as the giant canary-yellow flowers adorning the 10-foot-tall Aloe africana, the tangerine-pink flora of the Aloe chabaudii, and everything in between—including the beautiful African jade plant, which is also covered with blossoms.

It is still too early to marvel at the American Desert in full bloom (typically early April), however, just like the African Desert glasshouse, there is a plethora of otherworldly leaf and plant structures to study and enjoy. The sunshine also adds to the visionary experience, by illuminating the spines of certain cacti. All in all, the warmth of the sun and the enchanting arid landscape of the Conservatory desert glasshouses create a wonderful winter escape.

Aloe chabaudii

<em>Aloe chabaudii</em>
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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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