Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/June 1900/The New York Botanical Garden
|THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN.|
DIRECTOR OF THE LABORATORIES.
A BOTANICAL garden is a museum of plants in the broadest sense of the term, and its chief purpose is to represent, by means of living specimens so far as possible, the principal types of the vegetation of the globe. It is obviously impossible to cultivate on any small area more than a few thousand of the quarter of a million of species in existence, and hence the plantations are supplemented by preserved specimens to illustrate the forms, which, by reasons of limitation of space, climate and soil, cannot be grown in the locality. In addition the species which formed the vegetation of the previous geological periods are represented by fossil specimens completing the history of the plant world so far as it is known, and yielding suggestions as to the descent of the present types.
Two general educational purposes are served by an institution of this character. Its collections are arranged to present information on the form, relationship, mode of life, habit and general biological character of the principal types of vegetation, in such manner as to be capable of comprehension by persons unacquainted with the technical aspects of the subject. Further interpretation of such facts may be made by means of books, journals, and lectures devoted entirely to this phase of the subject.
The material accumulated for the exploitation of popular knowledge of plants also affords an excellent basis for the induction of students into the more strictly scientific aspects of botany, and when supplemented by laboratories furnished with apparatus,, and other instruments of precision, the activities of these students may be carried beyond the frontiers of the subject in the investigation and discovery of new facts and phenomena. This extension of the boundaries of knowledge concerning the plant world may be carried on to advantage, only when a library is at hand, which contains all of the more important literature bearing upon the subject. The descriptions of the results of such researches should be made in publications devoted exclusively to this purpose, in accordance with the practice of all the more important botanical institutions in the world.
The general scope of the New York Botanical Garden has already been described by the writer in a previous number of this magazine (January, 1897). The greater part of its actual construction and organization has taken place in the last three years, and it has now entered upon the discharge of its chief functions.
The Garden comprises two hundred and fifty acres of land in Bronx Park, in the City of New York, which was set aside for that purpose by the Department of Public Parks in 1895. A fireproof museum building of stone, brick and terra cotta, 308 by 110 feet, has been erected for the Garden by the city in the western part of the grounds, near the Bedford Park Station of the New York Central Railroad. The building has a basement floor and three stories, with a total
floor space of nearly two acres, and a window area equal to half that of the floor area. The basement contains a lecture theater capable of seating seven hundred people, two large exhibition halls, preparation rooms, constant temperature laboratory, offices and storerooms. The first floor is devoted to a collection of economic plants, and the temporary installation of useful products in the way of foods, drugs, timbers, woods, fibers, gums, waxes, resins, oils, sugars, starches, poisons, utensils, etc., gives hints as to the great diversity of uses that may be made of vegetable products, together with an illustration of their method of preparation and their derivation.
The second floor is given over to an exhibit of types of all of the more important families and tribes of plants, from the simplest and most minute, to the highest and most complex. Specimens, models, fruits, seeds, drawings and photographs are used to bring the principal facts clearly before the observer. A set of swinging frames running parallel to the cases containing the types of the flora of the world, are used to display specimens of the plants found within a hundred miles of New York City. A number of special microscopes have been constructed for the purpose of forming a perfect exhibit, which will enable the visitor to see some of the more salient features in the minute structure of some of the plants in the cases.
The third floor contains the library, herbarium and laboratories. The library occupies a stack room extending to the rear of the middle of the building, two small storerooms and a large circular reading room, under the illuminated dome. Here are assembled the botanical
books of Columbia University, as well as those accumulated by the Garden, now numbering more than eight thousand volumes, with no reckoning of unbound separates and pamphlets. The collection of botanical periodicals is nearly complete, and the library is especially rich in literature concerning the mosses, ferns, and the flora of North and South America.
The main herbarium occupies a room in the east wing, eighty-five by forty-seven feet, and connected with it are storerooms and offices adequate to its administration. Windows on all sides of the main room and skylights give ample illumination. The number of mounted specimens on the shelves is not less than three quarters of a million, including the herbarium of Columbia University, which is deposited here in accordance with the agreement between the two institutions. The collection is especially rich in fungi, embracing the collections of Ellis and other eminent mycologists. A large amount of material of great historic value in connection with the work of Dr. John Torrey and the earlier botanical development of America is included. Accessions are being made to the herbarium at the rate of fifty to a hundred thousand specimens annually.
The laboratories consist of a series of rooms facing northward and westward, with special facilities for taxonomic, embryological and morphological investigations. Physiological and photographic darkrooms, the experiment room for living plants and chemical laboratories offer especially ample opportunities for the record and development of practically all phases of plant physiology. The laboratories, library and herbarium are open to the graduate students from Columbia
University, in addition to those from other institutions of learning who may register directly at the Garden. The latter, in return, have the privileges of students at Columbia University.
A weekly convention of all of the workers in botany in New York City is held in the museum, at which the results of recent researches are given or an address is made by an invited speaker from out of the city.
The area of the Garden presents a very irregular topography, comprising, as it does, a half mile of the valley of the Bronx River, low marshes and swamps, artificial lakes, open glades, with heavy peaty soil, upland plains with gravelly sandy soil, granite ridges, and about seventy acres of natural forest. About forty acres of this forest consist of a dense grove of hemlocks, which has never been seriously disturbed by the hand of man. It is truly remarkable that the City of New York should include within its boundaries a primitive forest of this size, and this invaluable feature is to be preserved forever by a special contract between the Garden and the Department of Public Parks. Since a hemlock forest is a climactic formation, and is not replaced by any other growth unless cut down, it may be expected to endure through the present geological epoch, barring the accidents of flood, storm and fire. The great diversity of conditions offered by the natural features of the Garden gives it a very rich population of indigenous plants. A census of the ferns and seed-plants at the time the tract was converted to its present purpose showed nearly a thousand species.
The entire area has been handled most sympathetically by those in charge of the architectural features of the Garden. The buildings were erected in the more open western part of the grounds, which offered the least valuable landscape features, and the surface around them has been improved by plantings. The natural beauties of the tract have been most zealously guarded from disturbances of all kinds. The attractive panoramas of wild woodland and stream offered to the artist and lover of nature have been left absolutely untouched, but made more valuable by increased ease and safety of access.
A number of special biological groups of plants have been established in suitable places in various parts of the Garden. The trees are in the arboretum east of the Bronx on the side and summit of a long ridge; unassorted and reserve material of all kinds is kept in the nurseries on the eastern slope of the same ridge; the salicetum is established on the border of the marsh in the northern end of the Garden, giving the willows and poplars the conditions under which they grow best. The fruticetum occupies an adjoining upland plain underlaid with gravel to a depth of twenty feet, affording space for the cultivation of a large number of shrubs, while the conifers are located on slopes to the westward of the hemlock forest. The viticetum is along the western edge of the forest, and the trellises of logs and timbers, extending for a length of six hundred feet, give suitable support to the
vines. The herbaceous plantation occupies an open glade to the westward of the forest, and lies between two granite ridges. It is traversed through the middle by a small stream widened at places into lagoons for aquatic forms. About twenty-two hundred species are now in cultivation in this plantation. The wide border plantations which are established along the boundaries also offer opportunities for the growth of a great variety of trees, herbs and shrubs.
The horticultural houses, also erected by the City for the Garden, are located in the western part of the grounds at some distance to the south of, and facing, the museum. A palm-house, with a total height of dome of ninety feet, is the central feature, from which lower ranges extend on either side, making a total length of front of five hundred and twelve feet. The horticultural houses, as well as the museum, are heated by steam furnished by a power house beside the railroad on the extreme edge of the Garden.
The collections of living plants in the plantations are arranged in the same system as the synoptic collection in the museum. Every plantation contains species of similar habit, and the horticultural houses are used for the cultivation of forms which may not endure the outdoor climate of this locality. Not only are the plants from warmer zones grown under glass, but when it is desired to develop native species out of their season, they may be forced and brought to full development and bloom in the winter.
The construction of driveways and paths is being prosecuted by the Park Department with all available funds at their commands.
Public appreciation of the natural beauties of the Garden, and of the phases of botany illustrated by its collections has been most gratifying, as shown by the great and constantly increasing number of visitors. The series of popular lectures given in the museum on Saturday afternoons have been well attended. The Journal of the Garden, which serves as a means of communication with its members, brings to the notice of its readers interesting facts in botany, horticulture and forestry, and records a constantly swelling list of gifts of books, specimens and plants.
The library, herbarium and laboratories have been open for only a few months, yet twenty-two students have taken advantage of the facilities thus afforded during the collegiate year now closing. Investigations of importance have been carried forward by these students, by members of the staff, and by the members of the staff of Columbia University. The results of some of these investigations have been published in the Bulletin of the Garden, which also contains the official reports of the organization. Papers written by members of the staff or students are reprinted from the periodicals in which they appear as contributions, while a fourth series of Memoirs has been found necessary for the presentation of papers of great length.
Not the least important of the investigating functions of a garden consists in its participation in the exploration of remote or unknown parts of the world in an effort to obtain a better knowledge of the plant population of the earth. During the brief period of its activity the
Garden has already carried out work of this character in the Rocky Mountains and in Porto Rico.
The ordinary work of the Garden is maintained by the income from its endowment fund, by the annual dues of its members (now numbering over eight hundred) and by an annual appropriation by the City. Its board of managers is authorized to hold and administer trust funds, and it is hoped by the aid of gifts or bequests for special or general purposes to expand its usefulness in directing investigation. Already it has been favored by a bequest of a considerable sum of money by the late ex-Chief Justice Charles P. Daly, which may be devoted to any purpose determined by the board of managers.