Torrey Lecture, Wednesday March 30

2022-04-07: The recording is online on the Torrey Botanical Society YouTube channel.

I am proud to announce that I will be co-presenting, with Zihao Wang, a Lecture of the Torrey Botanical Society on Wednesday March 30 at 6pm. The title of the talk is “City Nature Challenge (CNC) 2022: For Plant-lovers and Botanists Alike.”

Screenshot of top 30 Species Observed during NYC's CNC 2021

Note that the information we present will be applicable to iNaturalist users and City Nature Challenge observers and identifiers anywhere in the world! So, whereever you are, please join us if you can.


Unlike most other citizen science platforms, iNaturalist allows anyone to record their observations of any living thing anywhere in the world. As it approaches 100 million Observations worldwide, it has become increasingly important to botany and other biological sciences. City Nature Challenge, based on iNaturalist, engages community members in cities and urbanized areas around the world to make observations, and provides opportunities for taxonomic experts to identify them, all over the world. Last year over 400 cities participated, with over 50,000 people documenting over 45,000 species with over 1.2 million observations, the largest bioblitz in the world. In this Torrey Talk, two iNaturalist experts will show how you can participate in iNaturalist and this year’s upcoming City Nature Challenge.


Date: 2022-03-30
Time: 6pm EDT (GMT-04:00)
Duration: 1 hour
Registration: Zoom

The talk will be recorded and made available on the Torrey YouTube channel sometime after the event. Please subscribe to our channel and enable notifications so you get updated when we publish new recordings!

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Torrey Botanical Society

Plant Blindness and Urban Ecology

A small patch of biodiversity – i.e.: weeds – from my driveway.
Weeds in my driveway, August 2018

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal has people talking about it, e.g.: on the Twitter. The term “plant blindness” has been in use for a while, especially among those of us intensely interested in the subject of plants, from gardeners to botanists.

“Apps” and Social Media

I’ve seen folks get more interested in plants when they can reduce, or eliminate, the risk of being shamed by others for ignorance. (Which is nothing to be ashamed of, nor to shame others for. We all start out ignorant. Choosing to remain so, on the other hand …)

I’ve been on BugGuide for a decade. This is an expert-curated Web site where you can upload observations of any insect – and many other arthropods – seen in Canada and the continental United States. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the experts there, both professional and “amateur”, and continue to do so. However, it is curated; I’ve had many of my photos “Frass”‘d – trashed – because they did not meet someone’s standards for image quality. (“Frass” is caterpillar excrement.) So I can’t rely on BugGuide as a record of my observations, even for insects. Even so, I’ve often wished for the equivalent for plant identification.

The widespread availability of handheld computers with visual processing capabilities – i.e. “smart” phones with cameras and displays – has given rise to applications such as PlantSnap to help people ID plant “on their own”, without having to ask others for help. I’ve not been impressed with the accuracy of such apps. And better alternatives are available.

The rise of iNaturalist has been astonishing, and refreshing. Anyone can upload any observation of any living organism anywhere in the world. The technology behind iNaturalist is also a decade ahead of BugGuide. Geotagging and labels are automatically picked up, you can explore observations by region or place, or even just be exploring a map.

Anyone can assist in identification. This community aspect raises it up to the level of social media. I know a lot of conventional garden plants; I can help those who don’t know a Rhododendron from a Hydrangea by identifying their observations. I may even be able to go back to the same plant to confirm what it is, using the geolocation. In this way, I’ve made more identifications of others’ observations, than observations of my own.

Countering Plant Blindness in Urban Settings

When I’m sharing my knowledge, informally or formally, I find that people welcome the opportunity to learn new ways of seeing. It could be discovering that there are different kinds of bees, or that an asteraceous “flower” like a daisy or sunflower is not a single bloom, but hundreds of flowers. I’ve yet to come across someone who wasn’t excited to learn something new about living things that have been there all the time, right around them, where they live, not in some distant, inaccessible “preserve”.

We’ve had an unusually rainy year. The first half of this August gave us twice as much rain as the average month. A good time for the weeds; not so much for the gardeners.

I’ve been joking that the weeds are so out of control that I should do a “Bio-Blitz” of my own driveway. And why not?! Let’s get started.

Here is a small section, maybe 10 square feet in total, of the broken up concrete we call a driveway. How many different plants can you find in this photo? (Don’t worry, we’ll get some closer looks.) If, at first, your eyes glaze over and just see green, let’s practice. Are there any differences among all that green?

  • Is it all green? I see some yellow and brownish spots (aside from the leaves) in there.
  • Even among the green, is it all the same shade of green? Some is lighter, some darker. Maybe some has more yellow in it.
  • How about texture? Some seems coarse, some seems fine. Maybe those are different leaves, warranting closer inspection.

Weeds in my driveway, August 2018

Instead of looking down, let’s look from the side. Now we can see there are many different heights and shapes of the plants themselves (and more evidence of an inattentive Gardener). The field of green starts to distinguish itself into groups of vegetation, even individual plants.
Weeds in my driveway, August 2018

Let’s start to look at some groups. Let’s call them A, B, and C.

Group A: How many different kinds of plants can you see in this photo?
Weeds in my driveway, August 2018

Group B: How about this one?
Weeds in my driveway, August 2018

Group C: Feeling confident? Let’s go back to the photo at the top of this post. How many different plant species are in this small patch, no more than two or three square feet in area?
Weeds in my driveway, August 2018

My answers:
A: 2 (maybe 3): crab grass, and Euphorbia (might be two different species)
B: 3, at least: The above two, plus Oxalis stricta, a native weed.
C: 7, at least: The crab grass and Euphorbia, plus Viola sororia, a foxtail grass, horseweed, and two I’m going to iNaturalist to ID to species: an Acalypha, copperleaf, and the one with pretty little yellow flowers (seems like a Sonchus, a sow-thistle, but the flowers don’t look right).

Now, I’m still a native plant gardener, and it is a driveway, not a garden bed. Once I’m done with my IDs, I’ll pull all the weeds. But knowing which weeds are native, and which are not, I can “edit” my weeds more selectively elsewhere in the garden, leaving the natives to pop up where they like, and reducing the competition from the non-native species. Thread by thread, I can weave ecological associations back into the landscape, even if it’s just a few square feet at a time.

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Rhododendron? Hydrangea? America Doesn’t Know Anymore, Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, 2018-08-14 (PAYWALLED)

Former BBG Herbarium property for sale

Want to build next to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens? This might be your one and only chance.
Development Site Adjacent to Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Hits Market, Terrance Cullen, Commercial Observer, 2015-09-10

More like building on the grave of BBG’s science and research mission. This is not just “walking distance from the Botanic Gardens;” it’s the former site of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Herbarium, known as BKL.

The 22,000-square-foot plot at 111 Montgomery Street in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn is hitting the market for a potential developer looking to likely build condominiums.

According to the NYC Department of Buildings, the property is 109-111 Montgomery Street. BBG quietly announced almost a year ago that they would be “disposing” of:

… BBG’s building at 109 Montgomery Street, which has foundation problems and is not cost effective to repair.

The disposition is expected to generate significant revenue …
BBG Announces Disposition of Montgomery Street Building, 2014-10-24

Indeed. The Observer article gives “an asking price in the mid-$40 million.”

BBG’s October announcement made no mention of the herbarium. In their “Freedom is Slavery” double-speak, they claim the sale as “the first step in reintroducing a science research program at the Garden.” “Reintroducing” because BBG removed science from their mission in September 2013, with no announcement, just a month after firing their remaining science staff,

BBG planned to transfer the herbarium – again, without announcement – out of state, either to the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT) or the Smithsonian. This would have been a disaster for the natural history and cultural heritage of New York state. It was only through last-minute, behind-the-scenes advocacy and intervention in March of this year that the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) instead accepted the contents on loan. That move was completed in April.

In June of this year, BBG sold the property to the holding company, 109 Montgomery LLC, for $24.5 million.

According to the president of the brokerage handling the sale of the herbarium property, “There’s a real need for families moving into Brooklyn to buy apartments within the $1 to $2 million range.” But no room for science, at any price.

Related Content

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Slash and Burn “Campaign for the 21st Century”, 2013-08-23
Brooklyn Botanic Garden removes science from its mission, 2014-01-20


Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Slash and Burn “Campaign for the 21st Century”

Sign the Petition to Restore Science to Brooklyn Botanic Garden! (Added 2013-09-16)

2013-08-29: Added more links. I will continue to do so as this story begins to get more exposure.
2013-08-24: Expanded analysis. Added more external links to relevant sections of BBG’s Web site.
2013-08-23 18:00: Added response from BBG.


I was alarmed to read the following on Twitter yesterday [2013-08-21]:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden suspends science program and lays off botany staff. Express concerns to president Scot Medbury
New York Flora Association, 2013-08-22, ~06:00 EDT

My Letter

For over a century, since its founding, science has been a foundation of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is a primary reason why I have supported them. This morning [2013-08-23] I wrote the following email to Scot Medbury, President, Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), and the Director of Major Gifts at BBG’s Development Department:

Subject: The end of BBG’s Scientific Mission?

I’m writing to express my concern at what I’m hearing about the elimination of all remaining science staff at BBG.

I would like a statement of what was done, and why, and what BBG’s future plans are for its scientific mission.

BBG’s scientific mission has been a foundation for over a century. It is a primary reason why I have supported BBG. Not just financially, but through social media: my blog, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook. I even helped organize a meetup of Brooklyn Bloggers at BBG a few years ago.

This latest – and apparently final – blow to science at BBG makes me question my support.

You can respond by email or phone. My cell number is XXXX.

Thanks in advance for your attention to this.

BBG’s response

Not long after, I received the following response from Kathryn Glass, VP of Marketing at BBG:

Thank you for your interest in and concern for BBG.

I’m sad to have to confirm that, because of financial difficulties coupled with a serious infrastructure issue in the foundation of the Garden’s off-site science building, BBG announced Wednesday that it was suspending its field-based botanical research program and putting the related programs and projects on hiatus. During this suspension interim, there’s going to be very limited access to the 300,000 specimen herbarium.

This decision was not taken lightly, and puts major challenges to not only temporarily relocate the herbarium and re-building the building, but also to plan for bringing back the research program with a strong plan for sustaining it. So not a lot of clarity here but the picture will emerge over the next months and years.

Again, thank you for your support of the garden.

The announcement mentioned was strictly internal, and sent by email. Later this afternoon, I saw the article in the Crown Heights and Prospect Heights edition of DNAInfo, which leaked the email:

“Despite the successes achieved in the Garden’s most recent fiscal year ending June 30th, BBG faced significant challenges in planning the FY14 budget because of increased insurance and employee-benefits expenses, among others,” Garden President Scot Medbury told staff in an email obtained by DNAinfo.

“The Garden faced a shortfall that could not be fully addressed by increasing revenue targets or reducing non-personnel costs.”

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Cuts Science Staff Weeks After Native Garden Debut, DNAInfo, Crown Heights and Prospect Heights edition, 2013-08-23, 10:15 EDT


For the past several years, under the guise of its “Campaign for the Next Century,” the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has been in a development frenzy – the Edibles/Kitchen Garden, The Visitor Center, the Native Flora Garden Expansion, the planned overhaul of the Children’s Corner at Flatbush and Parkside. Ample naming and branding opportunities to go around. At the same time, it has been gradually eroding its scientific and educational missions.

BBG claims these benefits for its “Campaign”:

… these enhancements will help the Garden … [foster] a love and understanding of plants and the natural world and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.
– “Vision,” Campaign for the Next Century, Brooklyn Botanic Garden [Emphasis added]

What relevant understanding of “plants and the natural world” is possible without science? What inspiration can the next generation find when science is valued less than a plot of Lilacs?

I can only begin to identify other costs and impacts of BBG’s “suspension” of science:

  • The New York Metropolitan Flora Project has provided information to other organizations working to document, and mitigate, the impacts of invasive plants in our region.
  • Field work has supported the work of other programs and organizations, such as the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, and the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, to document, collect, and preserve the natural botanical heritage of the region. 
  • Just one year ago, BBG hosted a two week Herbarium Course, co-sponsored with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for students to “learn how to properly curate and conserve a scientific collection of preserved plants.”
  • Earlier last year, Hobart and William Smith College donated its entire herbarium collection to BBG.

By turning its back on its scientific mission, BBG has betrayed the trust of these and scores of other institutions and individuals that have collaborated with them. BBG has lost the right to call itself a “botanic” garden.

For a vision of what has been lost, read this article of a visit in 2005, just before Scot Medbury was installed as President of BBG, and began destroying it all.

Spring has Sprung, Ivan Oransky, TheScientist, 2005-04-25

Related Content

The Plight of NYC’s Native Flora, 2010-04-08
The Brooklyn Blogade at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2008-10-12
Web Resource: New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF), 2008-06-02

All my Brooklyn Botanic Garden blog posts



Botanic Garden’s celebrated plant research center wilts under layoffs, NY Daily News, 2013-08-28
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Cuts Science Staff Weeks After Native Garden Debut, DNAInfo, Crown 
Heights and Prospect Heights edition, 2013-08-23

Softball Practice: Part 1: When an Organization Undermines Its Own Mission, 2013-08-24; Part 2: Follow up to “When an Organization Undermines . . .”, 2013-08-29
BBG Purge, Backyard and Beyond, 2013-08-23
Brooklyn Botanic Garden suspends science program, Kent Holsinger, 2013-08-23

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Names New President, Press Release, published on BGCI Web site, 2005-08-15

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Announces Interim Herbarium Plans, 2013-09-12
BBG Announces Plan to Reenvision Research Program, 2013-09-06
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Announces Suspension of Research Program, 2013-08-28
Note: BBG PULLED this press release when they decided they were “re-envisioning,” not “suspending.”

Campaign for the Next Century
Herbarium Course at BBG, 2012-08-10
Herbarium Receives Historic Collection, 2012-05-31
New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF)

BBG’s 2013-09-06 Press Release:

In late August, Brooklyn Botanic Garden announced plans to put its research program on hiatus while it grapples with an engineering problem in its science building and formulates a plan for a new research direction in plant conservation.

Garden president Scot Medbury said, “Our commitment to scientific research as a fundamental part of the Garden’s mission is unwavering. We will use this transition period to refine the focus of our research program and strengthen its base of financial support.”

During the hiatus, the Garden is taking proactive steps to protect its valuable herbarium from a failing building foundation and will limit herbarium access to qualified researchers while planning to relocate the collection.

“BBG has successfully reimagined its research programs several times in its hundred-year history, and this is another such juncture,” said Medbury.

BBG’s 2013-09-12 Press Release:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) today announced a new collaboration offered by The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) during a period of planning and construction affecting access to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Herbarium.

In late August, engineering problems affecting the foundation at Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s off-site science center led to a phased closure of that building and consequent access restrictions to its herbarium, the collection of 330,000 pressed, dried plant specimens housed there. While planning gets under way to relocate the BBG Herbarium (BKL), BBG will remain focused on the care of its herbarium collections, maintaining one part-time and two full-time staff members, including its director of collections, Tony Morosco, an eight-year veteran of the University of California’s Jepson Herbarium during a similar period of transition.

As part of the new collaboration, science staff from NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium will provide additional monitoring and support for the BKL during BBG’s planning phases. BBG’s important subcollection of herbarium type specimens will be temporarily moved to NYBG to facilitate researcher access. NYBG will also help process the return of loans made to other institutions from the BKL and assist with future loan requests. In addition, plans are in progress to transfer the BKL database to NYBG, where it will become a subunit of NYBG’s C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium.

“Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s commitment to ensuring that scientific research remains a fundamental part of its mission is unwavering,” said Scot Medbury, president of BBG. “We are deeply grateful to The New York Botanical Garden for their generous technical support while we undergo a major transition.”

A Hudson River Riparian Plant Community

Part of the eastern bank of the Hudson River, just south of the Route 8 bridge at Riparius/Riverside in the Adirondacks of New York. A year ago, this was all underwater, inundated by flood waters from Hurricane Irene.
Riparian Plant Community, Hudson River, Riparius, NY

One year ago, Hurricane Irene reached New York City. The damage in my neighborhood was slight: downed trees and large tree limbs.
London Plane Street Tree downed by Hurricane Irene

Our post-engagement pre-honeymoon vacation was delayed a day, simply because there were no roads open out of the city to our destination. Even the New York State Thruway was closed along most of its length: many entrance and exit ramps flooded, and it was safer to keep people off the road altogether.

Irene’s rains continued north, devastating the Catskills. At New Paltz, the Wallkill River overtopped its banks. This was a cornfield; the entire crop was lost. The sunflowers at the far end of the field are ten feet tall.
Flooded Sunflowers

The rains reached the Adirondacks. Which was exactly where our vacation plans were taking us. We arrived at Riparius, NY, on the banks of the Hudson River in the Adirondacks, just after Labor Day 2011, a few days after Irene had passed and the rains subsided.

The river was still swollen a few feet above its normal level. Never having been there before, I had no frame of reference. But I could see the waters lapping onto the lawns below the cabins, and saw grasses flowing beneath the waters. The few rocks visible were submerged, or nearly so.
The flooded banks of the Hudson River at Riparius after Irene

Last week we arrived at a different river, the wild Hudson, still freshly scrubbed and scoured by Irene’s floodwaters. The water, and banks, are now dominated by smooth, polished river rocks. In Adirondack tradition, I constructed a cairn on the shore near the cabin where we were staying.
My 10-Stone Cairn on the banks of the Hudson River in Riparius, NY

The evidence of Irene was everywhere. In addition to the plentiful now-exposed rocks, bank erosion was visible nearly the entire length of the shoreline here, cutting back into the mowed lawns hosting Adirondack chairs sited to view the sunset over the Hudson. The rocks themselves seemed relatively little disturbed. What Irene did was clear away a good foot or so of soil and plant growth that had overlaid the rocks, revealing the older, rocky bank beneath.
Bank Erosion, Hudson River, Riparius, NY
Bank Erosion, Hudson River, Riparius/Riverside, NY

One can see here that larger rocks amplified the power of the moving waters around them, scouring away the soil that previously surrounded them. The absence of lichens on the upper surface of this rock indicates it probably was previously covered with at least a thin layer of soil and plant roots. Now, a year after Irene, it stands alone.
Scouring around and behind a large rock, Bank Erosion, Hudson River, Riparius/Riverside, NY

Remarkable, to me, was how much plant life remained among the rocks. Most of what’s visible in this photo was inundated a year ago. The line of erosion can be clearly seen along the right. In some places, a foot or more of soil was washed away with Irene’s floods. This exposed the rocky bank beneath.
Bank Erosion and Regeneration, Hudson River, Riparius/Riverside, NY

A year ago, the water rose up onto the lawn on the upper right of the photo above. In this photo, just in front of the white bench, the rocky bank of the photo above is barely noticeable.
The beach on the Hudson at Riverside

The grasses flowed underwater with the current, like seaweed.
The flooded banks of the Hudson River at Riparius after Irene

But not all plants were washed away. Several clumps remained intact. Instead of wiping the slate clean, as Irene did in many places in the Catskills, the old set was struck and the stage reset for the next scene. The regeneration of a soft, soiled bank has already begun, as survivors recover, and pioneers fill in the now empty muck between the rocks.
Riparian Plant Community, Hudson River, Riparius, NY

Key to the persistence and recovery are the grasses, the dominant plants in this community. Here’s a detail demonstrating the tenacity of the roots, and their ability to grip bare rock and hold the soil in place against the floodwaters. And not just those of the grasses: one can also see here at least a half-dozen non-grass species growing in and around the grasses. They benefit from this close association simply by being present after the flood, ready to quickly regenerate and re-populate the landscape.
Riparian Plant Association, Hudson River, Riparius, NY

And thus begins the cycle. These plants – and some pioneer grasses – have already begun to restore themselves and their community. Over time, between floods, they will fill in all the gaps among the rocks again, laying down more organic material, and rebuilding the old, soft, green shore. Until the next flood.

The diversity of this plant community – just one year after the flood – surprised me. More evidence that most of these plants survived the flood, rather than colonizing the river just this year. I’m still identifying plants from the photos I took on this strip. And it will probably take me months to upload them all. But here’s a list of the species and genera I’ve been able to identify so far:

  • Chelone glabra, White Turtlehead
    Chelone glabra, White Turtlehead
  • Cyperus strigosus, Umbrella Sedge
    Cyperus strigosus, Umbrella Sedge
  • Eupatorium/Eupatoriadelphus, Joe Pye Weed
  • Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed
    Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed
  • Iris, probably Yellow Flag
  • Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal Flower (easily identified as the spots of bright red in these photos)
    Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal Flower
  • Lobelia kalmii, Kalm’s or Ontario Lobelia (also new to me, needed to get online before I could identify it with any confidence)
    Lobelia kalmii, Kalm's/Ontario Lobelia
  • Lycopus amaricanus, American Water-Horehound (a species new to me, I recognized it as a member of the Lamiaceae, mint family, which aided identification)
    Whorled Inflorescences, Lycopus americanus, American water-horehound (ID TENTATIVE)
  • Lythrum salicaria, Purple Loosestrife (Unfortunate, but I only found three scattered plants. Now would be the best time to remove them, but as a guest, and a stranger, it was not my place to do so on my own.)
    Flowering Spike of Lythrum salicaria, Purple Loosestrife
  • Mimulus ringens, Allegheny Monkey-flowe
    Mimulus ringens, Allegheny Monkeyflower (TENTATIVE)
  • Myosotis, Forget-Me-Not (haven’t keyed it out yet to determine if it’s a native or introduced species)
  • Polygonum amphibium, Water Smartweed (also new to me)
    Polygonum amphibium, Water Smartweed
  • Sanguisorba canadensis, American Burnet (another new species for me)
    Sanguisorba canadensis, Canadian Burnet
  • Solidago, Goldenrod
  • Spiranthes cernua, Nodding Lady’s-Tresses (also new to me, but I recognized the tiny flowers as orchids, which narrows it down considerably)
    Spiranthes cernua, Nodding Lady's-Tresses
  • Verbena hastata, Common Verbena (yet another new species for me)
    Verbena hastata, Common/Swamp Verbena

The Adirondacks as we know them today are only 20,000 years old, exposed after the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (which also gave birth to Long island, including Brooklyn). My stone cairn may be a little sturdier than a sand castle, but its ephemeral nature is part of its charm, and its beauty. I see the river, the rocks, the plants, the mountains themselves with the same eyes. Because I will never see them this way again, they are all the more beautiful to me now.


Related Content

Flickr photo sets:


BBG’s Susan Pell in Papua New Guinea

The Louisiade Archipelao in Papua New Guinea, Oceania. Source: NASA Earth Observatory
Louisiade Archipelago

Dr. Susan Pell, Plant Molecular Systematist with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is leading an expedition to explore the Louisiade Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. The expedition team also includes researchers from the New York Botanical Garden, as well as the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Conservation International, Old Dominion University, and the University of Papua New Guinea:

For five weeks in early 2009, BBG’s Dr. Susan Pell is leading a field research team in remote areas of Papua New Guinea. The team will work with local naturalists to survey the flora of the little-explored Louisiade Archipelago and compile a conservation assessment. …
The botanical field reconnaissance will include both intensive collection of forest plants around Alotau and targeted species enumeration studies. The purpose of the fieldwork is to expand knowledge of the biodiversity of the Milne Bay Province. The Louisiade Archipelago is of specific interest because of its large number of native species.
About the Expedition

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Pell as one of the instructors for the Plant Taxonomy class I completed at BBG in December. Thanks to her, I now have some idea of what a plant molecular systematist does! I would bet she’s currently the most remote correspondent of the Brooklyn blogosphere. She started blogging about the expedition just three days ago:

I’ve spent five years planning a field expedition to Papua New Guinea—and it’s now underway.

Every time I go out into the field there are so many great stories to tell. So I’m going to try to use this web diary to share some of the things that come up over the course of our six-week exploration.

Once we head into the remote island areas I’ll be blogging by satellite phone, so the posts may get a little succinct. I’ll have time at the start and the finish to share some longer stories. Enjoy!
Blogging PNG, 2008-01-07, Susan Pell, BBG

We’ll be able to track the team’s progress on a map on BBG’s Web site. After 30 hours of travel, Dr. Pell is now in the capital of Port Moresby. From there, they’ll travel to Alotau:

After convening in Alotau, PNG, to provision and confirm final plans, the team will depart January 15 on a charted boat for the three-week exploration of the three main islands of the Archipelago, Misima, Rossel [Yela], and Sudest [Vanatinai]. These islands are home to many species found nowhere else in the world. The expedition will wrap up outside of Alatou, the capital of Milne Bay Province, which located on the island of New Guinea.
About the Expedition


Expedition: Papua New Guinea, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

ID that tree

A specimen of Abies fraseri, Fraser Fir, decorated as our Christmas/ Winter Holiday Tree for 2007-2008.
Christmas Tree

A reminder that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has an online guide to identifying the species of your holiday tree.

Most people can tell a Wii from a PS3 in the shop windows at this time of year, but how many can tell whether that’s a Scotch pine or a balsam fir in their living room? Our simplified key will help you identify your holiday tree.
Holiday Tree Identification, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

For example, here are the keys to my annual choice, Abies fraseri, the Fraser Fir:

  • Leaves are needlelike, at least 4 times longer than wide.
  • Needles occur singly, not in clusters.
  • Buds are round or egg-shaped and have blunt tips.
  • Needles are attached directly to the stem.
  • Mature needles are 1/2 to 1 inch long.
  • Twigs have red hairs.

I also learned in my Woody Landscape Plant Identification class that you can quickly tell an Abies (Fir) from a Picea (Spruce) by trying to roll a needle between your fingers. Fir needles are flat and will not roll. Spruce needles are more cylindrical and will easily roll.

Since the guides include all species grown and sold commercially across the United States and Canada, they include some species you’re unlikely to find at your local tree merchant in New York City, such as Cupressus arizonica, the Arizona Cypress. In addition to the online keys, they have a page for each species, and many links to other information about selecting, identifying, and enjoying your tree.

Related Posts

Brooklyn Mulchfest 2009


Holiday Tree Identification, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Long Live the Christmas Tree, 2008.12.04, from neighbor and fellow gardener at New York City Garden

Steven Earl Clemants, 1954-2008

Steven Earl Clemants. Credit: Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The botanical world – especially New York State, New York City, and Brooklyn – suffered a great loss recently. Steven Earl Clemants, Ph.D., Vice President of the Science Department of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday, November 2, 2008. Funeral services were held last Friday, November 7. He was 54 years old.

I never met Steven, but I’ve known of his work. I’ve written about some of it on my blog. His contributions in several fields, including native plant conservation, invasive plants, and urban botany, are substantial. I can only summarize.

Dr. Clemants was Chair of the Board of the Invasive Plant Council of New York State. He was the Historian and past President for the Torrey Botanical Society, and Chair of the Local Flora Committee of the Long Island Botanical Society. He was a founder, coordinator and contributor for the New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF), which is documenting all the flora within a 50-mile radius of New York City. He was Codirector of the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology (CURE), a collaboration between BBG and Rutgers University. He served on the Advisory Board and Atlas Committee of the New York Flora Association. He was a graduate faculty member of both Rutgers University and the City University of New York. He was also involved with the New York State Invasive Species Task Force, the Prospect Park Woodlands Advisory Board, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, among many other efforts.

He was Editor-in-Chief of Urban Habitats, an open-science online journal dedicated to worldwide urban ecological studies. In addition to authoring and co-authoring numerous technical journals and articles, he was co-author, with Carol Gracie, of “Wildflowers in the Field and Forest: A Field Guide to the Northeastern United States.”

The Dr. Steven Clemants Wildflower Fund

The Dr. Steven Clemants Wildflower Fund has been established to honor him. Steve’s widow, Grace Markman, is working with the Greenbelt Native Plant Center to plan a living memorial that will foster the planting of native wildflower species in New York City parks.

If you would like to donate to the Fund, there’s a PDF form to fill out and mail with your check. Email me at xrisfg at gmail dot com and I’ll send you the form. Make out your check to “City Parks Foundation” and mail it with the form to:

City Parks Foundation
c/o Greenbelt Native Plant Center
3808 Victory Blvd.
Staten Island, NY 10314

As an alternative, here’s an Amazon Associates link for the paperback edition of the Field Guide which Dr. Clemants co-authored. I will donate any proceeds I receive through this link to the Dr. Steven Clemants Wildflower Fund. The Field Guide is also available in both hardcover and paperback editions from BBG’s online store.

Related Posts

Web Resource: New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF), 2006-06-02


Steven Earl Clemants:

Center for Urban Restoration Ecology (CURE)
Invasive Plant Council of New York State
Long Island Botanical Society
New York Flora Association
New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF)
Science Department, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Torrey Botanical Society
Urban Habitats

News: Brooklyn Heights Fights for Botanical Accuracy

An assortment of caryopses. Credit: Fir0002

From Monday’s New York Times, in an article about the slow season in New York State’s legislature:

Earlier this year, Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, an upstate Republican, introduced legislation that would make sweet corn the state vegetable. …

But when the bill came up for debate in the Senate on Tuesday, it quickly earned the disapproval of Senator Martin Connor, a Brooklyn Democrat.

“As everyone knows, corn is a grain,” he said. “And I would propose that we make sweet corn the New York State official grain.” …

As Legislative Session Wanes, So Does Leaders’ Momentum

“The criteria is whether it comes from the reproductive part of a plant or the vegetative part of the plant,” Dr. [Marvin P.] Pritts said. “If it comes from the reproductive part of the plant, it’s a fruit. If it comes from the vegetative part of the plant, it’s a vegetable.”

Botanically speaking, corn is a caryopsis, or dry fruit — popularly known as a grain.

Dr. Pritts allowed that corn, like a tomato, is eaten like a vegetable, “so to a normal, everyday person, it’s a vegetable.”

So what makes a grain, anyway?

In botany, a caryopsis is a type of simple dry fruit — one that is monocarpelate (formed from a single carpel) and indehiscent (not opening at maturity) and resembles an achene, except that in a caryopsis the pericarp is fused with the thin seed coat.

The caryopsis is popularly called a grain and is the fruit typical of the family Poaceae (or Gramineae), such as wheat, rice, and corn.

The term grain is also used in a more general sense as synonymous with cereal (as in “cereal grains”, which include some non-Gramineae). Considering that the fruit wall and the seed are intimately fused into a single unit, and the caryopsis or grain is a dry fruit, it is not surprising that in general usage little concern is given to technically separating the terms “fruit” and “seed” in these plant structures. In many grains, the “hulls” to be separated before processing are actually flower bracts.

Caryopsis, Wikipedia

Glad we cleared that up!

via Brooklyn Heights Blog