Botanical Fieldwork

The plant research conducted at BBG extends beyond New York City. This blog tracks the global expeditions of BBG's botanists.

Why Is the Native Flora Garden Pond Green?

“Gross! Ew! That water looks nasty!” I often hear comments like this from visitors when they first lay eyes on the pond in the Native Flora Garden. Many people assume that the green surface of the pond is due to algae, but the truth is more intriguing. The film you see on the pond now is actually made up of thousands of tiny flowering

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Photos Lead to Discovery of Unknown Leafhopper

Fieldwork in the New Jersey Pine Barrens by BBG staff has led to the discovery of a previously unknown insect species, dubbed the Whitcomb leafhopper (Flexamia whitcombi). “A lot of people assume there are no new species to discover, or that any unknown ones are deep in undeveloped rainforest, but even here in North America, in the U.S.'s most

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What Gives Leaves Their Fall Color?

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, the leaves of our broad-leaf trees are losing their green, and entire forests are turning shades of gold and yellow, orange, red, and purple. This process is one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles, but the changes that create it occur within each tiny leaf cell, where pigment molecules are

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Nastiest. Mushroom. Ever.

An alarming fungus is popping up quick Called elegant stinkhorn or the devil’s dipstick As distasteful to the nose as it is to the eyes Its odor’s designed to attract pesky flies Insects feed on the slimy stalk And spread its spores around the block A member of family Phallaceae and Mutinus genus

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Working for Watersheds

Healthy forests provide good water. That’s one of the reasons our area is known for the purity of its water. It’s also why BBG scientists are working in area watersheds to evaluate and understand the condition of these forests. Paul Harwood and I have been studying the forests of the Catskill High Peaks for the past few years, compiling a

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Herbarium Course at BBG

Students from across the U.S. and Canada are here for next two weeks to participate in a special course on herbarium techniques offered by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Here they will learn how to properly curate and conserve a scientific collection of preserved plants like the collection of over 320,000 specimens in

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Herbarium Receives Historic Collection

Another treasure trove of plants has been given to the Garden. Hobart and William Smith University, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, has given its historic herbarium collection to BBG. “The specimens in the Hobart Collection are mostly from the last half of the 19th century. In addition to specimens from western New York State, there are

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Global Plant Initiative Reigns in Spain

BBG’s Herbarium contains more than 310,000 preserved plant specimens, and we are working to make the information stored in it accessible to all by posting it on the internet. The Global Plants Initiative, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is an international partnership of museums and gardens with that same goal, and I just returned from the

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In Search of Andreaea

Mosses and liverworts rarely get the same consideration that flowering plants do. It is odd how little we know about them. Last week I went to the Delaware Water Gap to search for a group of rock-dwelling mosses believed to be extremely rare in our area—the Andreaea species. The last report of this moss from the Water Gap was from Professor

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Checking in on Pine Snakes

Last week, I was invited to join the annual pine snake census in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The census is organized by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation to support the work of Dr. Joanna Burger, a professor of ecology at Rutgers University who has been studying pine snakes for most of her career. Others from the conservation community were

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Wild Seed Hunters

Seed Collecting in the Pine Barrens

It’s early morning and the dew has evaporated in the July heat. We’re leaving Brooklyn for the wilds of New Jersey, crossing the Verrazano Bridge through the sweltering intensity of the city’s low-hanging haze. We are seven people, in one van, on one mission. We’re after a rare jewel in the world of native flora: Asclepias

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The Living Lineage of Flowering Plants

Amborella trichopoda (Amborellaceae) is the earliest known living lineage of flowering plants. Any student who has taken a class with me over the last 10 years has learned about this amazing plant. In its endemic country of New Caledonia, on Mt. Aoupinie, I finally got to see this amazing and very strange flowering tree. The two earliest known

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Parc de la Rivière Bleue

Parc de la Rivière Bleue (Blue River Park) is perhaps most well-known national park in New Caledonia. It is in the heart of the southern end of the south province and is famous for its most showy vertebrate residents, the kagus (Rhynochetos jubatus). We were fortunate to visit the park with Daniel and Irène Letocart from the Endemia

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Adventures in Fieldwork

We collected at the end of a harrowing road today – I’m not sure that our car rental agency knew what they were getting into with us! The habitat on the road to the Montagne des Sources Preserve was a mix of high maquis and rain forest on ultramafic soils. I still have not quite gotten used to seeing so many different gymnosperms in

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Forest Plots in Parc des Grandes Fougère

We had an excellent field day in Parc des Grandes Fougères with a team of botanists from IRD. The park was established in 2008 adjacent to (and accessed via) Réserve Spéciale de Faune du Col d’Amieu and its name means park of large ferns. We worked mostly in previously surveyed plots established within the park’s forests

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First Day of Fieldwork in New Caledonia!

For our first day of fieldwork we joined Barbara Turner, a Ph.D. student from the University of Vienna studying the ebony and persimmon genus, Diospyros (Ebenaceae), and Céline Chambrey, a botanist from IRD, on an already planed excursion. We made two stops, Gadji and Yahoué, both of which are within 15 minutes of Nouméa. Gadji

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Visit to the Noumea Zoological and Botanical Garden

After exploring the local market, we decided to visit the zoological and botanical garden in Noumea. We were very pleasantly surprised to find an excellent zoo with large, well-kept and rather open enclosures for the animals. The zoo has an affiliation with the World Wildlife Fund and has excellent interpretation throughout. I was, of course, very

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First Days on the Island

 After 13 hours over water, we finally saw the islands of New Caledonia as we approached the airport. We spent the first few days getting our bearings, doing a little in-town botanizing and birding, sorting out a rental car issue (the four wheel drive SUV we got at the airport was the size of a large toaster and had less luggage space than my

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BBG Scientist in New Caledonia

For those of you unfamiliar with my research and my global botanical escapades, I offer this brief introduction. My name is Susan Pell and I am the director of Science at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The primary foci of research conducted in our department are the evolutionary relationships of plants, their nomenclatural classification, and where they

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Dr. Susan Pell, director of Science at BBG

Dr. Susan Pell, BBG's director of Science

In March 2011, BBG’s director of Science, Dr. Susan Pell, is leading an expedition to collect members of the cashew family (Anacardiaceae) and the frankincense and myrrh family (Burseraceae) on New Caledonia’s Grande Terre and Île des Pins, in the western Pacific.

One Anacardiaceae genus in particular, Euroschinus, has diversified in New Caledonia to a greater degree than it has done throughout the rest of its range in the Pacific. DNA analysis of the collected specimens will contribute to understanding why this is so. One explanation may be the diversity of ancient soil types found in New Caledonia. Another may simply be the 65+ million years its flora has been isolated from other major landmasses. BBG’s work will help unravel this flora’s evolutionary and biogeographic histories.

Over the course of three weeks, Dr. Pell and her team will backpack to remote areas of the islands to locate and collect plant specimens. Her blog posts document her discoveries and provide a day-to-day picture of the process of field collection.

This expedition is funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB-0919485).

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