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

Esther Jackson

Top 7: The Best Popular Science Books of 2017

Posted in Books: Past and Present on December 13, 2017 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Growing a RevolutionAs 2017 comes to an end, it’s time to look back on the best popular science books of the year. This list represents my favorites.

Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life by David R. Montgomery

$16.96. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 

This was far and away one of my favorite books of 2017, and one that I enthusiastically recommended to many others throughout the year. David R. Montgomery challenges the “norm” in industrial farming soil care. With research, interviews, and an engaging style of writing, he invites readers and agriculturists alike to consider the ways in which soil fertility can be improved with better soil care and practices. Montgomery presents a better way to grow more food, save money, and build up soil that has been decimated through traditional industrial farming techniques. For those who live and eat in the United States, Growing a Revolution is a must-read. (Full review here.)

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Thomas Walter and His Plants

Posted in Books: Past and Present on October 23, 2017 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Ward Front CoverThomas Walter and His Plants: The Life and Work of a Pioneer American Botanista new book from The New York Botanical Garden Press, documents how Walter named, for the first time, many native plants in North America in his Flora Caroliniana, published in 1788. Part history, but mostly scientific, Thomas Walter and His Plants will be of interest to botanists, bibliophiles, and history-of-science enthusiasts.

Flora Caroliniana was the first flora written in America that used Carl Linnaeus’ classification system and binomial nomenclature. In terms of modern taxonomy, this is a very big deal. The way that plants are still named today has its basis in Linnaeus works, specifically his Species Plantarum, published in 1753. After this publication, binomial nomenclature became the standard for naming plants. Very simply, binomial nomenclature is a system of giving plants (and other living things) a Latin name containing two parts—a genus (which is a capitalized noun) and a specific epithet (which is a lower-cased modifying adjective, often descriptive or commemorative). (Read more about taxonomic ranks, including genera and species here.) 

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Edit-a-thon Update: Expanding Access to Information about Important Women in Plant Science

Posted in Events on June 6, 2017 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Photo of editathon“Plants and People” was the theme of a Wikipedia edit-a-thon that The New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library hosted in January. Editors and organizers focused on creating and enhancing Wikipedia articles about women in science, specifically biographical articles of female ethnobotanists, plant taxonomists, and plant collectors. For this event, the special collections of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library were used extensively, allowing for analog biographical information about important women in science to be shared with the world through Wikipedia.

This was the second edit-a-thon at NYBG during the past year, and organizers benefited from the expertise and assistance of expert Wikipedia editors from the Wikimedia NYC  chapter. Wikimedia, the foundation that supports the work of Wikipedia and its sister projects worldwide, posted a story about the event, including a video, on its blog.

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A Catchy Phrase, But is It True?

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on February 10, 2017 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. 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.


Acer pseudoplatanus Frank Vincentz
Acer pseudoplatanus by Frank Vincentz

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue unless you are familiar with scientific terminology. However, what appears to be a somewhat intimidating phrase is actually marvelously succinct and elegant.

Ontogeny is “the development or course of development, especially of an individual organism.” This could refer to the development of a plant from embryo to seed to seedling to mature, reproductive plant. Or it could refer to an animal growing from an embryo into an infant and then into an adult. 

Phylogeny is “the evolutionary history of a genetically related group of organisms, as distinguished from the development of the individual organism.” Sometimes these relationships are illustrated as trees of information, with groups of closely related organisms called clades. Studying and depicting shared evolutionary history is known as cladistics. Have you seen Darwin’s tree of life

If so, then you understand the basic idea of phylogeny. It’s all about the study of relationships.

Recapitulate means “to repeat the principal stages or phases.” For most, this is perhaps the most recognizable word of the trio. Actually, it is the namesake of recapitulation theory.

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Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon 2017

Posted in Events on December 28, 2016 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at The New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office.


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On Wednesday, January 25, 2017, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., the LuEsther T. Mertz Library will host a Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon focused on creating and enhancing articles for Women in Science.  Specifically, we will be highlighting female scientists.

This NYBG Edit-A-Thon is a part of a week of Wikipedia editing events hosted by the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL).  Other participating institutions include Mt. Cuba Center and the University of New Mexico.  The theme for this series of Edit-A-Thons is “Plants and People.”  At NYBG, library staff has elected to focus on creating biographical Wikipedia articles for women who work within several areas of botany—ethnobotany, taxonomy, and plant collecting.

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Top 10: The Best Popular-Science Books of 2016

Posted in Books: Past and Present on December 22, 2016 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at the New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office.


Many exciting science books were published in 2016, including an enormous number of more specialized botanical texts. But of all the excellent titles intended for a general audience, a few stood out in particular for me. Here are my favorite popular-science books of the year.

Botanicum (Welcome to the Museum)Art & Art History

Botanicum (Welcome to the Museum) catches the eye immediately, its cover adorned with botanical illustrations.  Illustrator Katie Scott has breathed contemporary life into her botanical illustrations with an art nouveau-like aesthetic that manages to recall historic botanical illustration styles. Author Kathy Willis has divided the text into “galleries,” titled The first plants; Trees; Palms and cycads; Herbaceous plants; Grasses, cattails, sedges, and rushes; Orchids and bromeliads; and Adapting to environments. This is a beautiful book for casual plant lovers as well as those who are already passionate about botany and botanical art.

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The New Wild

Posted in Books: Past and Present on June 13, 2016 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library, where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


The New WildThe New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation is the latest book from environmental journalist Fred Pearce.

In recent years, invasive species have been on the minds of many people and have been the focus of a variety of organizations working in ecology and biology, including The New York Botanical Garden. As Science Talk readers may know, the Botanical Garden hosted an invasive species summit in November 2015 to address the threat that invasive species represent to biodiversity worldwide. The summit featured discussion about conservation, including ecosystem management, and involved prominent speakers in the fields of invasion biology, restoration ecology, and not-for-profit land management. The New Wild is quite a topical book.

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Help Us Boost Botanists on Wikipedia!

Posted in Events on May 16, 2016 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


The_LuEsther_T._Mertz_Library

On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., the LuEsther T. Mertz Library will be hosting a Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon focused on creating and sprucing up pages for botanists who have made significant collections in New York State.

Editors are welcome to use the vast historic collections of the Mertz Library to create and edit pages. For those who aren’t familiar with Wikipedia’s editing process, we’ll be offering training to help you get started, and editors of all skill levels are welcome to join in.*

Index Herbariorum and KE EMu, the herbarium collections database at NYBG, were used as starting points to build a list of New York State’s most notable plant collectors. This field has been male-dominated, historically, so we’re making every effort to promote better representation of female botanists. Help us share their contributions with the world!

All you need to do to attend is R.S.V.P. here.

You can view this event on Wikipedia and add yourself to the event page here.

*Attendees must bring a laptop to this event. Please note that training for new editors will be offered during the first hour of this event. New editors should plan on attending this training. Experienced editors are welcome to arrive at any point during this event’s duration.

Early Detection, Rapid Response: Applying the Resources of The New York Botanical Garden to an Emerging Invasive Species

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on December 24, 2015 by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is Public Services Librarian in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden.


Corydalis incisa</em (Bobbi Angell, 2015)
Corydalis incisa

Visitors to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library have the chance to see an exhibition centered on an emerging invasive species, Corydalis incisa, or incised fumewort.

This display, on view in the Rare Book Room window, arose from a collaboration between the Mertz Library and the Science Department. In preparation for last month’s Invasive Species Summit, staff brainstormed ways to use the Library’s display space to offer a compelling supplement to the programming of the Summit itself. Rather than displaying items from the Library’s collection illustrating unrelated invasive species, a more powerful exhibition would offer the narrative of one invasive—Corydalis incisaCorydalis incisa is an emerging invasive that Garden staff have studied and monitored for several years.

Daniel Atha, NYBG Conservation Program Manager, first wrote about Corydalis incisa in 2014 here on Science Talk Blog: “A member of the fumitory family, Corydalis incisa … is native to China, Korea, and Japan. It was first discovered growing wild in North America during the 2005 Bronx Park BioBlitz, north of The New York Botanical Garden.”

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