Archive for the ‘Public Gardens’ Category

Public Garden Trend Alert—Virtual Flower Fixes

Friday, March 13th, 2009

As spring sweeps across the country, some public gardens are capturing the spectacle of blooms online. Anyone in need of a bluebonnet fix can check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Bluebonnet Cam, updated hourly. It’s too early to tell whether anyone will top Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s 2008 tour de force, a time-lapse video of 3,000 photos of its famous cherry tree collection—from the early buds to peak bloom—complete with original music.

Help the Hemlocks

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I first saw the hemlock wooly adelgid in action about 15 years ago. Its telltale wooly white egg masses appeared on a few branches of three hemlock trees in my next-door neighbor’s yard in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Within three years the trees were dead. Since then the insect, which arrived in North America from Asia in the 1920s, has become a major scourge of eastern forests from Maine to Georgia. It is spreading rapidly into the oldest and largest hemlock stands in the Southern Appalachians, where some of the trees are 800 years old and more than 175 feet tall.

In fact, new research suggests the hemlock woolly adelgid is killing hemlock trees even faster than expected in the Southern Appalachians and most of the region’s hemlocks could be dead within the next decade. The hemlock plays a fundamental role in the ecology and hydrology of mountain habitats. Its thick, evergreen canopies help cool mountain streams that are home to trout. Many birds find shelter and places to nest in the hemlock’s evergreen boughs. In one study, 96 percent of all wood thrush nests found by surveyors were in hemlocks. Some warblers only nest in hemlocks.

Few of the growing number of U.S. native trees beset by pestilence have a federal task force devoted to their survival. The hemlock does. Among other things, the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid Action Team coordinates control efforts and runs a public education and outreach campaign. While homeowners can treat individual trees with horticultural oils or chemical pesticides, this isn’t practical for entire forests of afflicted trees. The most promising backwoods treatments found so far are two tiny nonnative beetles that dine voraciously on adelgids (and, scientists say, only adelgids). Tests in Connecticut and Virginia show that these beetles can reduce hemlock wooly adelgid populations by 47 to 87 percent in five months. The beetles have been released in selected areas throughout the Southern Appalachians.

Still, the scale of the hemlock wooly adelgid epidemic is so huge that scientists and public land managers won’t be able to contain it without the public’s help. Details on how you can monitor and treat trees on your own property and get involved in efforts to protect hemlocks in the wild are on the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid Action Team’s website.

Happy Birthday to Kew

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Several of the world’s greatest public gardens are celebrating birthdays this year. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London turns 250. Missouri Botanical Garden, the oldest botanic garden in continuous operation in the U.S., is celebrating its 150th birthday; to help celebrate the occasion, the American Public Gardens Association is holding its annual meeting in St. Louis this summer. Meanwhile, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is also celebrating its (ready for the Word of the Day?) sesquicentennial.

You can find my somewhat quirky take on the history of botanic gardens here

Creating Science Whizzes

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Good news for public gardens, zoos, and other places where visitors engage in “informal learning” about science. (For those new to the jargon, informal in this context basically means outside the classroom.) According to a new report sponsored by the National Science Foundation, “there is abundant evidence that these experiences contribute to people’s knowledge and interest in science.” What’s more, “they may also support academic gains for young people from groups historically underrepresented in science,” like minorities and women.

The report has some useful recommendations for people who create exhibits and other informal science programs: The exhibits should be interactive and designed with specific learning goals in mind. They should encourage visitors to relate what they have learned to their prior experiences and interests, and when possible the exhibits should be rooted in scientific problems, ideas, and activities that are meaningful to their communities.

Professionals who evaluate informal science programs for a living will be pleased to hear that there are some useful ways to measure “outcomes” (more jargon, meaning  ways to assess how well people have learned the science lessons the exhibits are intended to teach). But, sorry, to learn what these are, you have to shell out the $42.26 for the report.

You’d think that studies paid for by our tax dollars would be available for free on the internet. But I guess that kind of learning is a bit too informal for the NSF.

Millennium Seed Bank — Another Bank in Trouble

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is having financial troubles, according to the BBC. The MSB is on track to bank seeds of 10 percent of the world’s wild flowering plants by the end of this decade, but it’s facing a 100 million pound shortfall for its goal of banking 25 percent of the Earth’s plants over the next ten years. It was established in 2000 to collect and bank seeds of all the planet’s plants as an insurance policy — an important effort, given that an estimated 100,000 plant species are in peril.

You can support the MSB with an online donation.

A Celebration of Light and Life

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Get an online sneak peak of the new California Academy of Sciences, which will open this week. Unlike typical natural history museums, which architect Renzo Piano dubbed “kingdoms of darkness,” the stunning new facility is suffused with light. The combined natural history museum, aquarium, indoor rainforest, planetarium, and world-class research and education facility is on track for LEED Platinum certification. Its 2.5-acre living roof, which mimics the San Francisco Bay area’s rolling topography, is designed in part as replacement habitat for the imperiled Bay Checkerspot butterfly. A transparent four-story dome in the Academy’s east wing houses the “Rainforests of the World” exhibit, complete with birds, butterflies, and frogs living amongst the jungle vegetation. As executive director Greg Farrington notes, the new Academy looks forward and embraces life rather than cataloging the dark halls of distant history. The museum seeks to explore, in his words, “how we got here, and how are we going to find a way to stay.”

Public Garden Trend Alert Con’t

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden has a new forest canopy walkway that enables visitors to explore the treetop biodiversity of the lush Pacific Coastal Rainforest. Continuing a trend at other public gardens, it’s reportedly the first canopy walkway in Canada. 

Public Garden Trend Alert — Teen Magnets?

Monday, August 18th, 2008

How do you get teenagers to come to public gardens, no less make things interesting once they’re there? These have long been vexing questions.

In the olden (pre texting and Facebook) days, intrepid educators at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden produced an exhibit on plants associated with such teen concerns as birth control and mind-bending substances. (They can do that kind of thing in Merry Ole England without causing bedlam and scaring off funders.)

Now at least two major botanic gardens are betting that GPS technology is just the ticket for this finicky cohort. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has unveiled the “Kew Ranger,” a hand-held GPS unit. The device, which is available for rent, tells teens (as well as technology-averse adults) their exact location in the garden, then displays information about nearby specimens. Meanwhile, in Miami, educators at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden are employing GPS units to get students psyched about plants.

Then there’s the fact that a representative from attended the APGA conference in Pasadena in June. Stay tuned.

Canopy Walk and Rhizotron

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Canopy walks at botanical gardens and arboretums are the hottest thing since children’s discovery gardens started appearing everywhere in the 90s. Kew’s new Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway, named after the mining company that helped fund it and designed by the firm that did the London Eye, climbs 59 feet high into a canopy of chestnuts, oaks, and limes, and also takes a dip below ground to explore the subterranean world of tree roots. Another trend alert, at least in England: The design of the canopy walk is based on the Fibonacci Series.

The Next Big Botanical Thing?

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Animal plant gardens have appeared at several zoos and botanical gardens. What seven year old can resist a planting of elephant ear, staghorn fern, lizard tail and the like? Glasshouse Works offers dozens of “zoomorphic plants,” including tapeworm grape and chicken gizzard plant. Eeewww!