Exploring the science of plants, from the field to the lab

Archive: July 2014

Rediscovering an “Extinct” Carrot

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on July 30, 2014 by Gregory Plunkett

Gregory M. Plunkett, Ph.D., is Director and Curator of the Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics at The New York Botanical Garden. One of his major research interests is the carrot family, the Umbelliferae.

An "extinct" carrot
The flowers of Asteriscium novarae

Carrots and their wild relatives, Queen Anne’s Lace, are a familiar part of our life, whether at the green-grocer or along summer-time roadsides. But the carrot family (Umbelliferae) is a huge group of nearly 4,000 species, including many familiar sources of food, spices, and medicines, such as parsnips, celery, parsley, fennel, dill, caraway, cilantro, coriander, and anise. Most are found in northern temperate areas of Eurasia and North America, but there is a smaller subgroup of the carrot family centered in the Andean region of South America, extending from the alpine páramos of Colombia and Venezuela to the cold, windswept grasslands of Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile and Argentina.

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NYBG Grad Students: Annie Virnig

Posted in NYBG Grad Students on July 17, 2014 by Matt Newman

Annie VirnigAnnie Virnig is no stranger to tackling formidable challenges. Whether she’s hiking through the dense tropical forests of Colombia in search of rare plant species, noting her findings in the laboratory, or blocking a header on the soccer field, she employs the same diligence and problem-solving tactics to ensure the best possible result.

As a grad student at NYBG, Virnig’s work focuses on the neotropical blueberries that so often cause a stir in our Haupt Conservatory. The exotic shapes and colors of the Conservatory’s collection are only a small sample of their incredible diversity in South America, where the wealth of species goes well beyond the common blueberries, cranberries, and huckleberries that we associate with this plant tribe in the U.S. Zoning in on the historic and cultural uses of these plants, as well as the antioxidants and other health benefits provided by them, Virnig has found herself drawn to the town of El Queremal in Colombia, where an eponymous flower has captured imaginations for centuries.

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Rockefeller Center: Botanical History Underfoot

Posted in Nuggets from the Archives on July 11, 2014 by Lisa Vargues

Lisa Vargues is a Curatorial Assistant at The New York Botanical Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium. Her work includes digitizing plant specimens, historical and new, from around the world for the C. V. Starr Virtual Herbarium and writing for the NYBG Press.

While admiring Rockefeller Center’s renowned attractions, such as the famous 1934 gilded sculpture of Prometheus, it is easy to miss an inconspicuous reminder of the site’s importance in American botanical history. Looking toward the middle of Rockefeller Center’s Channel Gardens, directly behind a bronze sculpture of a sea nymph riding a fish, you will find the following plaque:

Hosack Plaque

The land now occupied by Rockefeller Center was once the location of the Elgin Botanic Garden, the first botanical garden in New York State and one of the earliest in the United States. It was established by Dr. David Hosack in 1801 and is often referred to as a forerunner of The New York Botanical Garden. Dr. Hosack, who tended Alexander Hamilton’s fatal wound following his duel with Aaron Burr, was a highly regarded physician and Columbia College professor of botany and materia medica. He created the Elgin Botanic Garden, named after his father’s birthplace in Scotland, primarily to teach his students botany and the medicinal properties of plants.

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Detecting an Invasive Plant Before It’s Too Late

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on July 3, 2014 by Daniel Atha

Daniel Atha is a Research Associate at The New York Botanical Garden. Jessica Schuler is Director of the Botanical Garden’s Thain Family Forest. Sarah Lumban Tobing is a Project Manager for Forestry, Horticulture and Natural Resources at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Purple keman (Corydalis incisa)
Purple keman (Corydalis incisa)

The latest threat to our local environment comes from an Asian plant that resembles wild chervil when young and has the potential to out-compete native species.

A member of the fumitory family, Corydalis incisa, or purple keman, is native to China, Korea, and Japan. It was first discovered growing wild in North America during the 2005 Bronx Park BioBlitz, north of The New York Botanical Garden.

A rapid survey of the same area in May revealed populations on both sides of the Bronx River and extending throughout the annual floodplain, consisting of both first-year seedlings and second-year flowering and fruiting plants. Within one heavily infested area, 32 seedlings were counted in an area of 100 square centimeters (a little more than 15 square inches).

Also this year, we found a previously undocumented infestation, 7.5 miles northeast in the Bronx River Reservation of Westchester County, representing the second known population in North America and the first report of the species for Westchester County.  The sighting was immediately reported to Westchester County Parks Department and we are now working with Brenda Bates of the Conservation Division to document and monitor the plants.

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