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

Stevenson Swanson

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

125 Years of Science and Conservation at NYBG

Posted in Book on March 16, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

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


BrittoniaBy their nature, scientists tend to be forward-looking sorts. As they explore their field of research, one question leads to another question, which, inevitably, leads to yet another question. But a recent issue of Brittonia, a quarterly journal of botanical research published by NYBG Press, casts a backward glance at 125 years of science and conservation at The New York Botanical Garden.

Research has played a major role at The New York Botanical Garden since its founding—by a husband-wife team of plant scientists—in 1891. As Lawrence M. Kelly, Ph.D., the editor of this special issue, writes in an introductory essay, the Botanical Garden’s scientific programs are aimed at describing, documenting, understanding, and preserving plant diversity.

Read More

Celebrating One of the World’s Greatest Plant Research Collections

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

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


HerbariumIt’s been called a “national treasure” by the National Science Foundation, but The New York Botanical Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium is hardly a familiar feature of the NYBG landscape for most visitors.

In fact, if they were told that the Steere Herbarium is the second largest research collection of its kind in the world, they might well reply, “What in the World is a Herbarium?”

As it happens, that’s the name of a new NYBG exhibition that showcases the central role that the Herbarium plays in the critically important plant research that takes place behind the scenes every day at NYBG.

Read More

Look Who’s Minding Our Planet

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

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


In Look Who’s Minding Our Planet, filmmaker Sara Lukinson explores the visionary partnership between philanthropist Lewis Cullman and The New York Botanical Garden, which has resulted in a world-class plant research program. The scientists in NYBG’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics delve into the evolution of plants, study their genetic make-up, and work to unravel their complex interrelationships.

As this compelling short documentary shows, they are also training the next generation of plant researchers, all with the goal of understanding and preserving the world’s plant life, which makes the rest of life on Earth possible.

After 248 Years, Still Fresh as a Daisy

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on February 3, 2017 by Stevenson Swanson

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


Capt Cook SpecimenPress. Dry. Mount.

That’s the basic process for turning a plant into a research specimen that will last indefinitely, and it’s stayed the same for hundreds of years for a good reason: It works.

As proof, here’s a member of the daisy family that botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander clipped in January 1769 in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. They were part of the scientific team aboard the HMS Endeavour on Captain James Cook’s first voyage around the world. This 248-year-old specimen, still holding onto its leaves and retaining most of its color, is now part of the collection of 7.8 million preserved plants in NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, the second largest in the world.

Read More

A Conversation about Plant Conservation in the Modern Era

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 9, 2016 by Stevenson Swanson

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


In Defense of PlantsIn the effort to conserve the planet’s biodiversity, plants tend to be overlooked. People spend much more time and money on “charismatic” species of animals. For instance, 100 percent of the world’s known threatened and endangered animals have been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the most important global institution when it comes to evaluating such threats. But only assessed about five percent of plants have been assessed.

It’s a scary state of affairs, especially considering that so-called biodiversity hotspots are defined by their vascular flora.

The New York Botanical Garden is working to improve awareness and understanding about the botanical world. That was one of the topics when Matt Candeias of the blog and podcast “In Defense of Plants” interviewed Dr. Brian Boom who, among his other responsibilities at the Botanical Garden, is the Garden’s Vice President for Conservation Strategy.

To listen to their discussion about Dr. Boom’s career and how he became so passionate about plant conservation in the modern world, click here

Podcast: Plants as Medicine

Posted in Videos and Lectures on October 14, 2016 by Stevenson Swanson

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


In a new podcast from health insurer Cigna, Ina Vandebroek, Ph.D.—the Matthew Calbraith Perry Assistant Curator of Economic Botany and Caribbean Program Director at The New York Botanical Garden—discusses how she studies the ways in which Caribbean and Latino immigrants in New York use medicinal plants in their health care.

As part of her research, she delves into the traditional knowledge, beliefs, and practices of the Dominican and Jamaican communities and also carries out field research in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

Dr. Vandebroek talks about cultural beliefs about specific illnesses and herbal therapies that are recognized in these communities but unfamiliar in mainstream medicine, such as “evil eye.”

Putting her voluminous research to practical use, she has developed training activities with health care professionals to help them understand the traditional beliefs and health care practices of their Latino and Caribbean patients. Her aim is to give doctors and other providers the information and understanding they need to build trusting relationships with their immigrant patients—with fully informed, improved care as the ultimate goal.

You can listen to the 36-minute podcast here.

Dr. Vandebroek’s research is supported in part by a World of Difference grant from Cigna Foundation.