Luna Paiva at Luciano Brito
Succulents cast in bronze and polished to shiny perfection? Yes please!
Luna Paiva at Luciano Brito
Succulents cast in bronze and polished to shiny perfection? Yes please!
For our ancestors, plants were both essential (a well-gathered meal, a well-thatched roof, etcetera), and deadly (an ill-advised snack in the woods, a mis-measured herbal remedy). But dangerous plants don’t announce themselves in any obvious way: They don’t gnash their teeth or flash their claws, and they definitely don’t chase you through the forest.
This has long been one of my favorite things to meditate on. As a former anthropology student, it boggles my mind that we’re all here at all. The world is filled with so many dangerous plants (this story on bitter plants is a nice companion to this piece), how did our ancestors differentiate between them? And as a new mom, I worry, how will I keep my child (who seems to want to put everything in his mouth) from grabbing, say water hemlock, and taking a chomp while I have my back turned?
Apparently evolution has my back (though evolution is never a suitable stand-in for appropriate adult supervision). According to a new study, babies—in proxy for early hominids—look to social queues in order to gauge which plants are safe and which are not.
Hunter-gatherers mostly played it safe, avoiding plants until they could reliably figure out if they were edible or not. The most helpful clues, it turns out, came from each other: If Mom eats parsley, you can too.
So instilling a love of gardening in your kiddos may not just help them eat better from an early age, it will also help them gauge which plants are friends, and which plants are foes. ~AR
DECOMPOSITION & DECAY *
In our modern-day human culture, decomposition and decay have often come to be viewed quite negatively, with the former mainly associated with things that are rotten, have a bad smell and are generally symptomatic of death, while the latter is similarly viewed as very undesirable, whether it be in terms of urban decay, or, on a much more personal level, tooth decay. However, they are vital processes in nature, playing an essential role in the breakdown of organic matter, recycling it and making it available again for new organisms to utilise.
Extraterrestrial basil? Maybe so. In a couple of years, NASA hopes to have terrestrial plants growing on the surface of our moon in order to study the viability of agriculture there. In the long term, it may be a step toward understanding our chances of successfully colonizing celestial bodies beyond Earth.
Before you ask how they plan to do this, though, we’re not just dusting the surface of the moon with seeds. Instead, specially-contained growth environments will be sent on a commercial spacecraft known as the Moon Express lander, mocked up in CG above. With their own growth medium and water reservoir, scientists will monitor the plants’ progress for around a week in hopes of understanding how radiation and reduced gravity on the lunar surface can impact vegetation.
Giant leap? Maybe not quite yet. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction—the direction where I get to live comfortably on Mars with a quaint greenhouse. Click through for the full story. —MN
What’s beautiful now? The end of leaves.
The leaves are mostly off the trees these days, which means they’re gathering on the grass, amongst the trees, or in the Bronx River. The absence of leaves gives the opportunity to enjoy the architecture of the Garden; to marvel at enormous trees and tiny seed pods. Increased leaf litter makes it easier to spot the birds and animals that make their homes in the Garden.
So, when you visit, yes, you do have to visit the Holiday Train Show, but also be sure to take a turn through the Forest and a stroll through the Ornamental Conifers. Look carefully, listen closely, and see our grounds with new eyes!
For a look at what’s going on today at the Garden, follow us on Instagram and Twitter where we post updates from our staff and visitors. Need help getting around? Our iPhone app can help out there. It’s free and available in the App Store. ~AR
Photos by NYBG photographer Ivo M. Vermeulen.
Winter is coming… Which is okay! ‘Cause it’s a beautiful time for trees. —MN
Plants can be albino too! This is an albino redwood tree, with white needles instead of green because it’s unable to produce chlorophyll. In order to survive, albino redwoods must join their roots to those of a normal redwood to obtain nutrients. Found in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park in the US, there are only around 20 known albino redwoods in the world, and their exact whereabouts have been kept secret as protection.
Read more: http://bit.ly/knM684
Image: Cole Shatto; Wikimedia
Not to be confused on a mechanical level with the Tumblr-popular ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora), which, while also devoid of chlorophyll and parasitic at the roots (it’s a myco-heterotroph, parasitizing trees’ mycorrhizal fungi), is not the product of albinism. These albino redwoods physically graft their roots to those of other redwoods, which is a species-specific talent and the only reason they survive at all.
Oh, and they may also be the proverbial unicorn of the average conifer farmer come the holidays. I’m sorry you’re so objectified, trees. —MN
Really want some huge prints of macro photos of Syntrichia mosses for my walls.
Would also accept living wallpaper or an actual carpet of Syntrichia mosses at home, in the office, and wherever else I can feasibly sustain one. —MN
I’m really sorry for not posting to this blog more often. I get all caught up with my botanizing at work and sometimes just forget about sharing various fun botany stories on this blog.
Anyway, I’m posting again after a long break mostly because swamibooba bullied me into it (naaawwww! Just kidding, however, I tend to do whatever he tells me to do. Today we’re looking at a species of Tillandsia, also known as the air plant. This plant is a member of the bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae). The most prominent member of this family is probably the pineapple plant, which produces sweet and delicious fruits made from the fusion of multiple flowers…we’ll have to discuss this in depth another time. The family itself is quite diverse and in addition to soil dwelling plants like pineapples, various species can also live up in trees epiphytically.
A lot of people get confused with the term epiphyte, which is used to describe plants that grow up on the branches and leaves of other plants (usually trees). Epiphytes only depend on other plants for support and do not steal nutrients or energy as a parasite would. My Tillandsia sp. is one such organism. It has no roots and is mostly just a ball of little leaves that are covered in little white trichomes/scales. This plant absorbs all it’s water and nutrients through it’s leaves. When water is scarce, the leaves dry and the trichomes go white and serve to reflect light away from the plant in order to conserve water. When water is present, the white surface goes translucent and the leaves go quite green, which allows photosynthesis to proceed.
Aside from leaves, these plants often reproduce by budding off. They’ll send out a little trailing stem (you can see one runner climbing up the back wall of the glass container) that eventually forms a new cluster of leaves at the node. This trailing stem is a new thing for me and I’m quite excited. Hopefully a new leafy structure will form soon!
Tillandsia have become quite trendy. And since knowledge is also trendy (right?) that makes Tillandsia knowledge doubly trendy (right?). But seriously, the more you understand how these plants grow in the wild the better you’ll be able to care for them in your home. If you would like one of your own and are coming for a visit soon, the Shop in the Garden has a beautiful selection of them. And if you’re still unclear as to how to care for them, just ask one of the Shop employees. They’re super knowledgeable about these plants. ~AR
This is the cross-section of a rose hip, the fruit that forms at the base of a rose. Many are edible and are used in everything from jellies to teas. This type of anatomy is called an inferior ovary, where the ovary sits below the other parts of the flower.
Never forget that fruit are a plant’s reproductive organs. ~AR
The World’s Fair of 1939-40 was held in Flushing, Queens where it covered more than 1,200 acres. The fair was dedicated to the “world of tomorrow” epitomized by the iconic Trylon and Perisphere sculptures which became the symbols of the fair.
The fair was open for two years, and during that time, The New York Botanical Garden maintained several exhibits (see page 10). You can see two of them in the photos above taken from the digital archive of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. The pond (with the Italian pavilion in the background) was a display of “24 hardy waterlilies, 14 tropical waterlilies and 14 miscellaneous aquatic plants” in the Gardens on Parade section.
The second exhibit, a display in partnership with the “Park Department,” illustrated “certain phases of the Garden’s activities … in the City Building, including, “a life-sized activated model of Amorphophallus titanum.” Amorphophallus titanum, also known as the corpse flower or the titan arum, flowers only rarely in cultivation, and was induced to do so for the first time in the United States at NYBG in 1937, and then again in 1939. ~AR
I was looking through the Digital Collections of the Mertz Library for something appropriate with which to celebrate Thanksgiving. Oddly, what kept popping up was seed and plant catalogs. So I peeked inside to see what they were up to.
Turns out, one of the selling points for a number of vegetables, fruits, and flowers has always been that you can grow a portion of your Thanksgiving dinner. Within these catalogs you will find promises of homegrown strawberries, tomatoes, squash, chrysanthemums, and more that will be ready for your feast day.
And while the descriptions of the plants are fun, it is the covers that always captivate me. So enjoy these beautiful and silly old graphics, and if you get tired of trying to string along conversation with your aunt visiting from Topeka, take a dive into our archives and enjoy a little time travel. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your imagination will wander! Happy Thanksgiving! ~Ann (AR) & Matt (MN)
A William Morris tapestry incorporating grapevines and cabbages. To the Ancient Greeks this was an unthinkable combination- didn’t everybody know that vines and cabbages hated each other? (Which, incidentally, is why cabbage was recommended by many classical authors as a cure or a preventative for hangovers!) In fact, many plants were supposed to either harbour sympathetic or antipathetic feelings towards each other.
This afternoon I went to a seminar at the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science about the anthropomorphising of the vegetable kingdom in classical natural philosophy and literature. Of particular interest to me was the discussion of treatments of pollination events by Greek and Roman authors, who often described the reproductive processes of plants- whilst not comprehending the details- in terms of lovesick yearning followed by romantic fulfilment.
I knew none of this before reading this and I am a better person for having read it! ~AR