GARDENS AS EDUCATORS:
FROM PRESCHOOL TO GRAD SCHOOL
New York Botanical Gardens Partner with Fordham, Columbia & NYU
“It’s kind of an Indiana Jones effort, tracking up the Amazon and in the mountains of Asia; it’s really an explorer kind of a lifestyle. If someone had told me that scientists get to do these really cool things I would have taken more science classes.” So muses Jeff Downing, Vice President for Education at The New York Botanical Garden.
He’s speaking of students like Fordham University’s Seth Ganzhorn who is working towards his doctorate in the Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil. He’s supervised by the NYBG’s Dr. Wayt Thomas who has worked in these forests for 18 years.
The NYBG is not a degree granting institution; it partners with a consortium of universities, including Columbia, Yale, CUNY, NYU, Cornell and most recently, Fordham University.
Nancy Busch, Dean of Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, says, “the NYBG is a world class research institution. The scientists there are absolutely top notch; the fact that they now have adjunct appointments at Fordham allows us to collaborate more closely.”
Larry Kelly, Director of the NYBG Graduate Studies program says, “One of our great strengths is the diversity of the consortium. Our students can take classes at any university in our consortium. The NYBG’s founder was a professor, so his first idea was for it to be an academic and research institution similar to Kew Gardens in England. As soon as it started, there was a training program.”
In the case of the Fordham partnership, it means that any student in the consortium can do graduate studies at the Calder Biological Research Station. Ms. Busch states “It’s 112 acres in Armonk, with a lake, old growth forest, new growth edge forest. We have a pollen monitoring station; media outlets use our pollen index. Our Vector Ecology Lab is doing research on Lyme disease; we’ve created a tick index.”
Mr. Kelly says “A lot of our students come from tropical countries, they develop their research projects, do their field research in tropical countries, and many return after graduation. They work for conservation organizations, universities, collections, government agencies, addressing issues, like we know we want to protect some parcels of land, how do we decide which are the best? How do we best extract resources from the land; how best to balance conservation with land use? That requires understanding biodiversity, plants, and animals. It takes experts.”
In addition to the expertise of its staff, the NYBG offers “the living collection, the herbarium with about 7 million plant specimens collected over the last couple of hundred years, from all over the world. There are always visitor researchers here. Specimens are referenced by where and when they were collected, what kind of plant community they were growing in, what the uses were as recorded from talking to people. Some specimens are referenced by soil types and pollinators. The herbarium allows you to look at distributions over time. The geographical spread of purple loosestrife was reconstructed by using specimens; you can look at the collections of chestnuts and see how widespread they were before chestnut blight.”
He adds, “I think we have the best botanical library in the Americas, because of the historical collection; the number of books, journals and magazines from ancient herbals from the 1500’s, to scientific texts from the time of [Carl] Linnaeus.”
And, there are surprises. “We have a very strong medieval program,” Ms. Busch said. “Who would have thought that the NYBG library would have beautiful hand drawn medieval plates, with the kind of depth of offering that are of historical interest to our medieval program as well as scientifically interesting.” #