In 1891, land for the New York Botanical Garden was set aside by the New York State Legislature for the creation of “a public botanic garden of the highest class.” The Botanical Garden’s International Plant Science Center is a world leader in plant research and exploration, using cutting-edge tools to discover, document, interpret, and preserve Earth’s vast botanical biodiversity.

NYBG Resources

Herbarium

The William and Lynda Steere Herbarium is the centerpiece of the Garden’s botanical research program. It is the fourth largest herbarium in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The Herbarium holds a collection of more than seven million preserved specimens filed according to a standardized system of classification. All plant groups–flowering plants, conifers, ferns, mosses, liverworts, and algae, as well as fungi and lichens –are represented in the Herbarium collection, which is particularly strong in New World specimens. This reflects the emphasis of the research projects conducted by the Garden researchers.

The C. V. Starr Virtual Herbarium, is the electronic gateway to the collections of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium. The goals of the Virtual Herbarium are to make specimen data available electronically for use in biodiversity research projects; to reduce shipping of actual specimens for projects where digital representations will suffice for study; and to reunite data elements (e.g., photographs and drawings, manuscripts, published works, microscopic preparations, gene sequences) derived from a specimen with the catalog record for that specimen.

The digital collections of the Virtual Herbarium, comprising approximately 1,300,000 herbarium specimens and 225,000 high-resolution specimen images, are updated daily as the Garden pursues the goal of digitizing all of its 7,300,000 plant and fungi specimens.

Library

The LuEsther T. Mertz Library is one of the world’s largest and most important botanical and horticultural research libraries, with over one million accessioned items (books, journals, original art and illustration, seed and nursery catalogs, architectural plans of glass houses, scientific reprints, and photographs) and over 4,800 linear feet of archival materials. The Library serves as both a research and a public library and as both a scholarly resource and a general plant information service. It offers a wide array of reference resources, print and electronic, and the help of an informed staff to anyone visiting the Library through the Internet or in person.

The Library seeks to collect as comprehensively as possible in systematic and floristic botany with particular strengths in the literature about the Western Hemisphere, the focus of the Garden’s research program. Since its establishment in 1899, other major research and academic libraries in New York City have transferred their plant-related collections to the Library and have deferred to it the role of serving as the primary plant-focused library in the metropolitan area.

Institute of Economic Botany

The IEB focuses on four central themes:

  • Food Security and Conservation of Crop Diversity: working to understand the biological, social, and political processes that lead to the maintenance, conservation, and continued evolution of major crop plants and lesser-known food species.
  • Sustainable Forest Management for Conservation and Economic Development: working with local communities to promote the sustainable exploitation of wild populations of economically important plants.
  • Biodiversity and Human Health: working with traditional healers to record the uses of medicinal plants for the provision of primary health care, and training today’s health care professionals who treat patients using medicinal plants.
  • Conservation of Biodiversity and Cultural Knowledge: working to record information on plant diversity, utilization, and traditional resource management, and partnering with local conservation agencies to apply this knowledge to identify and protect key habitats.

 

Graduate Studies

The Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program, begun in 1896, currently enrolls 41 students who are carrying out studies in systematic and economic botany at field sites around the world. It is one of the few programs with expertise that spans the spectrum of both systematic and economic botany. As a result of this broad range of research interests, students may choose from a cornucopia of courses and subject areas to design unique areas of study.

The broad range of courses offered throughout the New York area and the opportunity to interact with researchers in the natural and the social sciences provide a unique opportunity to develop skills in different fields relating to systematics and economic botany. These include phytochemistry, molecular biology, ecological physiology, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, economics, computer modeling and nutrition.

The Program is operated in conjunction with the following schools:
Lehman College Plant Sciences Program – City University of New York (CUNY)
Columbia University – Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC)
Cornell University – Biology Department
New York University (NYU) – Biology Department
Yale University – School of Forestry
Fordham University Louis Calder CenterBiology Department

Courses

Adult Education

Herbs: Historic Impact and Contemporary Uses (BOT303)
Learn to recognize the principal families of useful plants and to identify herbs. Investigate the physical properties of herbs and their roles within traditional cultures. The ceremonial uses of herbs and their practical applications as medicinals, aromatics, dyes, and detergents, are discussed. Herbs and herbalism literature is surveyed. Tours of the Garden grounds are incorporated into the instruction.

Psychoactive Plants: From Stimulants to Hallucinogens (BOT357)
Survey a variety of psychoactive plants used around the globe. Examine the basic chemistry, history, sources, effects, and cultural roles of several important psycho-active plants. Learn about the use of kava in Polynesian cultures, chat in Africa, ayahuasca in South America, opium in Asia, and coffee in Europe. Betel nut, coca, chicha, guarana, marijuana, mate, psilocybian mushrooms, tobacco, and yoco are also discussed.

Plant Remedies for Weekend Warriors: Workshop (BOT907)
Strained tendons and ligaments? Aching muscles? This class will explore plants that are effective healers of physical woes and instruct how to turn them into ready-to-use salves, liniments, herbal bath blends, and more. Taught by a former professional dancer turned ethnobotanist, the plant remedies discussed will offer immediate relief from the impacts of that last game, workout, or day of gardening.

Staff

James Miller (Dean and Vice President for Botanical Science)
Michael Balick (Vice President for Botanical Science, Director and Philecology Curator Institute of Economic Botany) mbalick@nybg.org
Ina Vandebroek (Ethnomedical Research Specialist)
Wayne Law (Postdoctoral Researcher)

Modules

Local Market Survey: GroupProject on Food Diversity & Crop Origins– This project was developed for an Ethnobotany Field Course in Panama, geared toward advanced undergraduate students from any discipline. The project could easily be adapted for use anywhere, including urban areas within the US, for students from high school to graduate school. This is an introductory exercise meant to be used during the first days of a course, and is intended to bring students from various disciplines up to speed with one another on basic skills needed in Ethnobotany. These include: engaging with the community, interviewing, research planning, botanical nomenclature, and accessing accurate botanical information, while learning about Botany and Ethnobotany.