John McEnrue is the Vice President for Site Operations and Chief Sustainability Officer at The New York Botanical Garden.
Earlier this summer NYBG received the American Public Gardens Association’s Operational Sustainability Award in Washington, D.C., recognizing The New York Botanical Garden as having the premier commitment to sustainable operation relative to its peers throughout the nation.
Across the grounds, NYBG continues to make strides in waste reduction. The most significant was eliminating single-use plastic beverage containers system-wide this summer in both public and staff locations. We were able to do this by either enhancing existing water fountains to include personal bottle filling adapters, installing new bottle filling stations, or replacing the commonly used five-gallon inverted water filling stations with filtered stations that tap into New York City’s internationally renowned clean water supply. Our food vendor, in concert, agreed to no longer sell single use plastic bottled water and, in turn, replaced it with metal refillable water containers.
At a recent talk presented by NYBG’s Humanities Institute of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, artist Michael Wang discussed Extinct in New York. His compelling installation of four greenhouses contained a selection of plant, lichen, and algae species historically documented in the natural environments of New York City, but which no longer grow wild in any of the city’s five boroughs. The exhibition at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Art Center on Governors Island earlier this fall was based on surveys and historical research from the New York City EcoFlora project at The New York Botanical Garden, with assistance from Brian M. Boom, Ph.D., Vice President for Conservation Strategy, Daniel Atha, Director of Conservation Outreach, and James Lendemer, Ph.D., Assistant Curator in the Institute of Systematic Botany.
The NYC EcoFlora project engages citizen scientists in documenting and preserving the city’s native and naturalized flora, and flagging invasive species. In the months leading up to the exhibition, Wang researched, sourced, planted, and tended to seeds and seedlings of these former New York City natives in his garden and studio in Upper Grandview, New York. During the exhibition, these organisms were sustained within a laboratory-like installation, under the care of a team of Arts Center staff, local students, and volunteers. Wang intends the plants to remain in the city after the exhibition, in the managed spaces of urban gardens—re-introduced to the lands where they once grew wild, but persisting now only under human care. For more information about Wang’s practice and the species featured as well as writings, photographs, and botanical drawings that sketch stories of ecological disappearance, read the artist’s statement here.
This article originally appeared as part of the Fall 2019-Winter 2020 issue of Garden News, NYBG’s seasonal newsletter. For further reading, view the issue online and discover a sampling of stories about current programs and undertaking at the Garden.
Samantha Frangos is a Laboratory Technician at the Pfizer Plant Research Laboratory of The New York Botanical Garden.
The green plant tree of life is built upon many evolutionary innovations. Plants have come a long way since they began as single-celled organisms one billion years ago. They have transitioned from water to land and managed to become the beautiful, towering, flowering and fruiting beings that are the backbone of life on earth. They have complex life histories—creating vascular systems, waxy cuticles, spores, seeds, and flowers. These innovations define key turning points in the history of green plants, and they are what separate the major plant groups: green algae, mosses and liverworts, ferns, gymnosperms, and flowering plants.
The One Thousand Plant Transcriptomes Initiative, also known as the 1KP initiative, is a global collaboration of nearly 200 plant scientists, including Dennis Wm. Stevenson, Ph.D., NYBG Vice President for Science and Cullman Senior Curator. “This longterm project integrates fieldwork, herbarium research, and living collections with the latest in laboratory and information sciences as an international collaboration,” Dr. Stevenson said. For almost 10 years, this group has been attempting to sequence the genes of one thousand plants, spanning every plant family on the tree of life. The sequencing of these species, 1,124 in total, brings science significantly closer to understanding how the tree of life works in the plant kingdom. By examining the similarities and differences in genes, we can more fully understand how plants created evolutionarily significant transitions. For example: we can use this data to understand how conifers, which disperse their seeds in cones, are related to flowering plants, which disperse their seeds in fruit and only appeared in the fossil record about 200 million years ago.
Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library.
Materials held in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library are extremely important resources for research related to climate change, especially those related to species distribution and rarity, and ecological topics. The study of distribution of species and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time is known as biogeography, and research related to biogeography—both contemporary and historic is some of the most interesting and impactful work that is done with Mertz Library collections.
Jessica Arcate Schuler is the Director of the Thain Family Forest at The New York Botanical Garden.
Ecological restoration is the driving discipline for the ongoing work in the Thain Family Forest. This newer field of science is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) as the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Ecosystems around the world are being used unsustainably and in some cases completely destroyed. Because of this, they are no longer providing vital ecosystem services such as food, water, carbon sequestration, pollination, climate regulation, and wildlife habitat. Ecological restoration provides the platform for people to utilize both conservation and sustainable development techniques to restore ecological function and improve conditions for everyone. The SER has developed international standards that guide restoration projects across the globe with an emphasis on educating and engaging local communities. Through the Forest Program, NYBG is a member of SER and also the Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanic Gardens where our collaborative declaration is to “Connect. Share. Restore.”
Barbara M. Thiers, Ph.D., is the Vice President and Patricia K. Holmgren Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, and Curator of Bryophytes at The New York Botanical Garden.
Herbarium specimens are one of the very few tangible sources of information about how plants and fungi lived before industrialization, and during each successive period of technological advance since then. Through creative adaptation of technologies developed to address other questions, researchers today can glean information from herbarium specimens about an organism’s physiology, its reproduction, interaction with pollinators, predators and parasites, and the atmosphere around it, for example, the presence of pollutants in the soil and the chemical composition of the air.
Plants have small openings on the undersides of their leaves called stomates that allow Carbon Dioxide (CO2) to enter the leaf for the process of photosynthesis, and allow Oxygen (O2), a byproduct of photosynthesis, to enter to air. A variety of studies have demonstrated that leaves produce fewer of these stomates when CO2 concentrations in the air rise. Examination of stomates on herbarium specimens confirm other evidence that CO2 levels are rising, and help to correlate this rise with other types of climatic and human-mediated events. Assays of plant tissue from herbarium specimens can also help find previously unidentified sources of pollution. Herbarium specimens have been used to track historical levels of radiation and heavy metals to serve as a baseline for pre-pollution conditions, and to assess the reaction of a species to the presence of these compounds. These techniques were used to study long-term effects of known pollutions events, such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, or can be used to discover previously unknown contamination events.