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Mission & History


The New York Botanical Garden is an advocate for the plant kingdom. The Garden pursues its mission through its role as a museum of living plant collections arranged in gardens and landscapes across its National Historic Landmark site; through its comprehensive education programs in horticulture and plant science; and through the wide-ranging research programs of the International Plant Science Center.


Inspired by an 1888 visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London, eminent Columbia University botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton, and his wife, Elizabeth, also a botanist, determined that New York should have one of the world’s great botanical gardens. Upon their return home, they launched a public campaign to establish this institution as a private, non-profit corporation in partnership with New York City and State, and their new botanical garden was chartered by New York State in 1891.

This has always been a botanical garden with a three-fold mission: to conduct basic and applied research on the plants of the world with the goal of protecting and preserving them where they live in the wild; to maintain and improve the gardens and collections at the highest horticultural standard; and to use the Garden itself as a venue for teaching the public about plant biology, horticulture, and the natural world generally.

Driven by this mission, the Garden’s Board and staff have created one of the world’s most comprehensive plant research and conservation programs, which includes fieldwork to discover new species, active collaborations to promote forest and habitat protection, and plant molecular biology. In the course of a century-long effort, the institution has amassed over 7.7 million plant specimens in the research herbarium, now the second largest in the world; built the world’s most important research library about plant science and horticulture; amassed living collections that contain over 50 gardens and more than 1 million plants; continued to steward this important American landscape; and taught millions of visitors to love and respect the world’s flora.

More information about the Garden and its history: Britton’s Botanical Empire: The New York Botanical Garden and American Botany, 1888-1929.

Scientific Research

The New York Botanical Garden is a world leader in plant research and exploration, using cutting-edge tools to discover, document, interpret, and preserve Earth’s vast botanical biodiversity. Garden scientists describe and name close to 50 new species each year in a race to catalog the world’s plant diversity before it is lost to deforestation and degradation of natural habitats. The Garden is one of the few institutions worldwide with the resources, collections, and expertise to develop the information needed to understand plant evolutionary relationships and manage plant diversity around the world. It also serves as a center for scientific scholarship and as a sponsor of vital field work.

Garden scientists have been conducting international research for more than a century; this longstanding tradition in the field and in the laboratory is enhanced by peerless resources. The William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, the second largest in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, houses 7.8 million specimens, from every continent and dating from the 18th century to the present. The C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium provides Internet access to information for more than 1 million specimens in the Steere Herbarium, with thousands of new records being added each year. The LuEsther T. Mertz Library holds more than 1 million items spanning ten centuries. The Garden’s research facilities include the 28,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Plant Research Laboratory, which houses the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics, Genomics Program, and Graduate Studies Program. The New York Botanical Garden Press is one of the largest science publication programs of any botanical garden, publishing journals, monographs, and books on botanical research.

The New York Botanical Garden employs a staff of more than 100 Ph.D. scientists, postdoctoral researchers, Ph.D. candidates, research associates, highly trained technical staff, interns, and volunteers who conduct research in the fields of plant systematics, economic botany, ecology, molecular systematics, and plant genomics. The Garden is one of the few institutions in the world with scientific expertise across the major evolutionary lineages that include algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, liverworts, ferns, and gymnosperms.

Institutional partnerships

The Garden has maintained a rich set of partnerships and collaborative agreements with institutions around the world. An essential component of the Garden’s scientific endeavor is the preparation of the biodiversity leaders of the future, and NYBG’s Graduate Studies Program trains students from around the world in the largest and most comprehensive Ph.D. program of its kind in the plant sciences. The program operates in affiliation with six university partners (CUNY, Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, New York University, and Yale), enrolls an annual average of 20 students, and has produced more than 300 graduates in its history.

The New York Botanical Garden is one of four prominent international botanical institutions that are leading the effort to create the World Flora Online. Our partners in this endeavor are the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The New York Plant Genomics Consortium is an inter-institutional collaboration combining the expertise of scientists from four research and educational institutions specializing in evolution and genomics. Our partners in the Genomics consortium are New York University, the American Museum of Natural History, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Other institutional partnerships include genomics collaboration through the Universidad de Antioquia (Colombia), the University of Milan (Italy), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, North Carolina State University, and the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain); NSF dimensions of biodiversity research collaboration with University of São Paulo (Brazil), City College of New York, Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP; Brazil), and Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE); NSF PBI Miconieae research with the California Academy of Sciences, Universidade Federal de Paraná (Brazil), and University of Florida; and NSF Plant Ontology Collaboration with Oregon State University and Cornell University.

Budget and funding

The New York Botanical Garden is located on property owned in full by the City of New York, and its operation is made possible in part by public funds provided through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. A portion of the Garden’s general operating funds is provided by The New York City Council and The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Bronx Borough President and Bronx elected representatives in the City Council and State Legislature provide leadership funding. The Garden’s science programs have an annual budget of $12-15 million, a large part of which is raised from private, non-governmental sources. Other financial support comes from institutional endowment and from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy.