A capacity audience filled the Ross Lecture Hall last week for The New York Botanical Garden’s Native Plants Summit, at which leading experts from academia, conservation groups, and private consulting practices discussed the current status, conservation, and outlook for the native plants of the Northeast.
In his welcoming remarks, Gregory Long, Chief Executive Officer and the William C. Steere Sr. President of the Botanical Garden, said that the Garden had been involved in studying and collecting the native plants of North America since its founding in 1891. He noted that the Garden’s founder, Nathaniel Lord Britton, had co-authored the first edition of a landmark flora of the plants of northeastern North America, the latest edition of which is now being prepared by the Garden scientist who organized the summit, Robert Naczi, Ph.D.
Daniel Atha is the Conservation Program Manager at The New York Botanical Garden. Richard Abbott, Ph.D., is a botanist at the Botanical Garden, where he works primarily on updating the Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Donald McClelland, Ph.D., studied at the Garden and is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor at Baruch College.
Feeling like astronauts exploring an alien planet, the three of us conducted botanical investigations on the capped and newly vegetated mountains of garbage that is Freshkills Park—once the largest landfill in the world. Resembling a moonscape, only with methane-capturing wells and a thick mantle of grass, the mound at Freshkills Park is soon to become a public recreation area.
In my last blog post I examined coffee, the official beverage of NYC movers, shakers, and deal-makers and source of my favorite alkaloid, caffeine. This article is something of a sequel. While the consensus seems to be that a sequel is never as good as the original, I could muster a boatload of rabid Star Wars fans that would argue to the contrary. In any case, my sequel involves a frosty highball of fine aromatic gin, a juicy wedge of lime, and a comfortable seat in the shade—so how bad could it possibly be? The alternate ending is not so pleasurable—it features high fever, chills, profuse sweating, nausea, and a plethora of other equally objectionable symptoms. Intrigued? Confused? Let me elaborate.
Outside of a handful of plant geeks, most folks probably aren’t that familiar with trees of the genus Cinchona (pronounced “sin-cho-nah”). They are native to the tropical Andean region of South America with some species reaching north into Central America or west as far as French Polynesia. It’s a pretty tree by most standards. The big Cinchona pubescens in the Upland Rainforest house of the Conservatory bears large, soft, elliptic green leaves and attractive panicles of rose-pink flowers in spring. But truly—anyone can stand around and look pretty. What makes this tree so fascinating is what it can do.
Since his death on August 30, Dr. Oliver Sacks has been described as a latter-day Renaissance man who took a learned delight in many things—neurology, certainly, but also minerals, squids, and other cephalopods such as cuttlefish, and, most definitely, plants.
Dr. Sacks, who was a Board Member of The New York Botanical Garden and a 2011 recipient of the Botanical Garden’s Gold Medal, was especially fascinated with cycads and ferns, and the Garden scientists who specialize in those plants were among those at the Garden who knew him well.
Cycad expert Dennis Stevenson, Ph.D., the Garden’s Vice President for Botanical Research and Cullman Curator, recalled that Dr. Sacks, who for many years paid regular Wednesday visits to the Garden, enjoyed bringing together people from the various fields that appealed to his eclectic nature so they could learn from each other. Botanists learned about cephalopods from marine biologists; geologists learned about plant science from botanists.
“Oliver was always in a most subtle way teaching all of us about the world around us,” Dr. Stevenson said.