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.
Annie 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.
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.
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.