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

Stevenson Swanson

NYBG Scientist Receives 2018 David Fairchild Medal

Posted in Personalities in Science on February 16, 2018 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Charles R. “Chipper” Wichman, Jr., President, Chief Executive Officer and Director of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, presents the 2018 Fairchild Medal to NYBG’s Dr. Michael J. Balick. Photo by Lynda LaRocca

Honoring a career spanning more than four decades of botanical fieldwork and research around the globe, Michael J. Balick, Ph.D., Vice President for Botanical Science and Director and Philecology Curator of the Institute of Economic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden, has been awarded the 2018 David Fairchild Medal.

The Fairchild Medal, given by the National Tropical Botanical Garden, is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a scientist who explores remote parts of the world to discover important plants and expand our scientific knowledge and practical understanding of them. It was presented to Dr. Balick recently at a black-tie dinner at The Kampong in Coconut Grove, Florida, the historic garden and former residence of David Fairchild, for whom the award is named.

David Fairchild was one of the greatest botanical explorers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He introduced thousands of important plant species and varieties to America, including soybeans, mangoes, dates, pistachios, nectarines, and avocados.

The National Tropical Botanical Garden, a Hawai‘i-based conservation, research, and educational institution, has given the award annually since 1999.

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Tell Me Something I Don’t Know—about Lichens

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 7, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Tell Me Something I Don't Know
Dr. James Lendemer (standing) tells host Stephen J. Dubner (seated, center) and co-hosts A. J. Jacobs (left) and Sas Goldberg (right) something they didn’t know about lichens.

Readers with an interest in economics and listeners to public radio know Stephen J. Dubner as one half of the writing team behind the best-selling 2005 economics-for-everyman book Freakonomics and as the host of the program Freakonomics Radio.

A triple threat, Dubner is also the host of a game show podcast, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, in which a handful of guests with a particular expertise talk to Dubner and his co-hosts about their subject and then the audience votes for its favorite expert. The prize: the satisfaction of winning and a nice commemorative certificate.

In a recent episode, “Farming without Sun or Soil and Manna from Heaven,” NYBG Assistant Curator James Lendemer, Ph.D., talked about his passion—lichens, combinations of a fungus and an alga that play important roles in ecosystems by filtering water and air and by providing habitat and food for wildlife.

As Dr. Lendemer explains, lichens are so sensitive that they are considered an indicator of air quality, but they are also tough enough to survive in outer space.

To listen to the full episode—and it’s worth listening to the end—head here

Bridging the Gap

Posted in Videos and Lectures on November 6, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo in the ConservatoryThe Cigna Foundation and the Ghetto Film School recently teamed up to host a competition among the school’s young filmmakers, who were challenged to use their video storytelling skills to highlight how some of the Foundation’s New York City-based World of Difference non-profit grant partners, including The New York Botanical Garden, are creating a positive impact on the health and well-being of local residents.

Taking second place was Bridging the Gap, by Kecia Romiel, who focused on the Botanical Garden’s innovative research led by Ina Vandebroek, Ph.D., Matthew Calbraith Perry Assistant Curator of Economic Botany and Caribbean Program Director in the Garden’s Institute of Economic Botany. Dr. Vandebroek’s project seeks to improve health care for New York’s immigrant Latino and Caribbean communities by studying the plants they use in their traditional medical practices and raising awareness of these practices among healthcare professionals.

You can watch Kecia’s short video here.

Majestic But Endangered: The Uncertain Future of a Mainstay of Northeastern Forests Will Be the Focus of NYBG’s Saving the American Ash Summit

Posted in Events on October 6, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of a white ash treeFrom anchoring the ecosystems of many North American forests to providing the wood commonly used in baseball bats, the American ash tree is a majestic and important part of this continent’s woodlands. Now, however, it faces a mortal crisis as an invasive beetle spreads from the Upper Midwest into the northeastern United States and Canada, leaving millions of dead ash trees in its wake.

Nearly 100 percent of ashes infested with ash borers die. The threat is so grave that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently added six North American ash species to its widely respected Red List of threatened species. It declared five of the six critically endangered, a category that is one step from extinction.

On Friday, October 13, 2017, The New York Botanical Garden will bring together four experts to discuss the natural and cultural history of the ash and the peril it faces in Saving the American Ash Summit. The summit will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Ross Hall at the Botanical Garden.

In addition to examining the threats to the American ash, the summit will address how homeowners, nature enthusiasts, and stewards of natural areas can work to save these beloved trees.

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No Longer a Best Guess: NYBG Scientists Help Produce the First Comprehensive Catalog of Amazonian Plants

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on September 22, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Rain forest in the Brazilian state of Acre
Rain forest in the Brazilian state of Acre

Representing a major advance in understanding and conserving the plant life of one of the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspots, an international team of scientists—including four researchers from The New York Botanical Garden—has created the first scientifically vetted list of known plant species in the Amazon Basin.

Based on documented plant specimens held in research collections worldwide and verified by specialists in tropical plants, the team cataloged 14,003 species of seed plants in the Amazon Basin, including 6,727 species of trees. Their research paper, which has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is available here.

Until now, the number of plant species that live in the Amazon Basin has been hotly debated, with estimates ranging from the tens to the hundreds of thousands. But those numbers have been based on ecological models or unverified species lists. This study assembles comprehensive species information based on plant specimens identified by specialists.

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NYBG’s Urban Naturalist Program: Become a Steward of Your Urban Environment

Posted in Learning Experiences on September 5, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Several Urban Naturalist students working on a sandy shore.Even in this teeming metropolis, nature is all around us. You just have to look for it. But it helps to know what you’re looking for and what you’re seeing when you’ve found it.

That’s where The New York Botanical Garden’s Urban Naturalist Program comes in.

Called “life-changing” by students who took the course this spring, the fall Urban Naturalist Program will equip you with the observation, interpretation and documentation skills necessary to become a citizen scientist and an effective environmental steward. Led by Mike Feller, our team of expert naturalists, including Ken Chaya and Nancy Slowik, will use the Botanical Garden’s grounds and select New York City parks as living labs to investigate the interrelationships between species and discover how our urban environment sustains those ecosystems.

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The Plant is in the Mail

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on July 20, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of a shipping labelWhen your local library doesn’t have a copy of that latest best-seller that you’ve been dying to read, it can usually request the title from another library. Something very similar happens when plant researchers are looking for preserved specimens in their field of study: they can request loans of these invaluable resources from research repositories across the globe.

NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium sends an average of 20,000 specimens out on loan every year. Even now, as millions of ultra high-resolution digital images of plant specimens are becoming readily available online in The New York Botanical Garden’s C. V. Starr Virtual Herbarium, there are still many times when nothing short of the physical specimen will do.

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NYBG’s Before the Green is Gone: 2017 Sustainability Summit and Dinner

Posted in Events on June 23, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of Before the Green is Gone
Maureen Chilton, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, The New York Botanical Garden; and Diane Katzin, NYBG Trustee and sustainability advocate

The New York Botanical Garden’s first Before the Green is Gone: Sustainability Summit and Dinner was held at multiple sites around the Botanical Garden on Wednesday, June 14. The event was held not only to honor those who have played central roles in sustainability initiatives at the Garden and around the world but also to advance public discussion of issues at the heart of building a more sustainable world.

Three concurrent sessions on critical sustainability subjects—water, forestry, and energy—featured experts from the worlds of business, research, advocacy, and philanthropy. Held at active conservation sites around the Garden, the information-packed sessions offered speakers the opportunity to share challenges and discuss practical solutions to these important issues.

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An Inside Look at NYBG’s Time Capsule of Plants

Posted in Videos and Lectures on June 21, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager for The New York Botanical Garden.


Photo of an herbarium specimenIn a new video about The New York Botanical Garden’s world-class herbarium, Assistant Curator Matthew Pace, Ph.D., likens the herbarium to a time capsule that “allows you to go basically anywhere in the world, back in time, and also extrapolate into the future.”

The 7.8 million preserved plant specimens in NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium—the second-largest in the world—capture what the ecosystem of a region was like at a specific point in time. By knowing the environmental conditions that allow a plant species to thrive, it’s possible to make predictions about how it will react in the future.

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A Project as Big as the West: Wrapping Up More Than 80 Years of Intermountain Plant Research

Posted in Books: Past and Present on May 2, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager for The New York Botanical Garden.


Intermountain Flora
Tony King (American, b. 1944); Bristlecone 8, 2009
[Pinus longaeva, Intermountain bristlecone pine]
Oil on linen
in Intermountain Flora, Volume Seven
For almost all of their professional careers, Drs. Noel and Patricia Holmgren have explored the vast region between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains—an area the size of Texas encompassing all or parts of seven states—to discover and document its plant life. Their work, and that of their many collaborators, is contained in Intermountain Flora, a monumental, multi-volume work published over the course of 45 years, beginning in 1972.

The New York Botanical Garden Press recently published the last volume in the series, Intermountain Flora, Volume Seven—Potpourri: Keys, History, Authors, Artists, Collectors, Beardtongues, Glossary, Indices. This 312-page supplement is both a history and a guide to the series, which provides authoritative, scientific treatments of nearly 4,000 plant species found in the Intermountain West.

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