In 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.
It’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.
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.
Deep in the Haupt Conservatory‘s upland rain forest house stands an unassuming tree with a rich history—one that involves one of the most significant medical discoveries of the last century. From the forests of South America to the ships of the British Navy, and even your favorite cocktail, the cinchona’s been making waves for decades.
Find out more about this eminently useful tree in our latest series, NYBG Facts!
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.
In the latest video from Science IRL, Molly returns to NYBG’s Pfizer lab to get up close and personal with a cycad specimen. Dennis Stevenson, Ph.D., and Dario Cavaliere, MA, reveal the vasculature in a cycad’s stem with dye, and in observing the pattern can then recognize the same species in fossils. Think of this installment as a survey of the anatomical approach, versus last week’s investigation of the genetic approach, to biodiversity studies.
Watch the video below, and check out more on Science IRL’s YouTube channel!
Here at NYBG we strive to bring the world of botanical science to the public, so we were thrilled to welcome brand-new web series Science IRL to shoot a video and offer viewers a glimpse into the daily work of NYBG scientists. Our own Gregory M. Plunkett, Ph.D., Director and Curator of the Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics, leads host Molly Edwards through the steps of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a fundamental part of our ongoing work in molecular science. As Dr. Plunkett and other scientists here at NYBG continue exploring the world’s biodiversity, identifying new species and examining how they are related to others, a PCR is a process that allows them to isolate a specific piece of DNA and create millions of copies.
Further explanation can be found in this video, which follows each step of a PCR. Watch below, and check out Science IRL’s other videos in the series on YouTube!
En Tu Comunidad is a public affairs program on the Spanish-language network Unimas that serves the New York City metropolitan area. The show is hosted by Enrique Teuteló.
Enrique invited me on the show to talk about my research in ethnomedicine—specifically, the use of medicinal plants in Latino and Caribbean communities in New York City, especially within the community from the Dominican Republic—and how this research can help physicians establish a better relationship with their Spanish-speaking patients.
Read on for a short English summary of our conversation, plus the full video of the interview in Spanish.
One of the most important research facilities at The New York Botanical Garden is the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, but unless you’re a plant scientist or seriously interested in botany, chances are you’re unfamiliar with what a herbarium is and why it’s crucial to the task of understanding and conserving Earth’s plant life.
Simply put, a herbarium is a library of plants—7.3 million preserved plant specimens, in the case of the Steere Herbarium. That makes it the largest herbarium in the Western Hemisphere and one of the four largest in the world.
But what can researchers learn from all those specimens? How do they use the knowledge stored there? How was the Steere Herbarium founded, and does it contain just the things that average people think of as plants—trees, flowers and shrubs? What about seaweed, moss, lichens and mushrooms?
Species of algae in the genus Chara are commonly called stoneworts or muskgrasses and belong to the freshwater green-algal family Characeae. Given that the Characeae are close relatives of land plants, it is very important to understand their life history if we want to understand the early evolution of land plants.
A life history is the series of growth and reproductive changes an organism undergoes throughout its life. A key difference between the life history of land plants and the Characeae is that alternation of generations is found in land plants but not in the Characeae, as far as we know.
I studied the life history of Chara rusbyana with my mentor at The New York Botanical Garden, Assistant Curator Kenneth G. Karol, Ph.D., by examining living cultures and consulting the botanical literature. Based on this project, I produced a short animated film about Chara rusbyana under the supervision of Professor Robin Starbuck of the Sarah Lawrence College film department.