Cornell Botanic Gardens

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Nevin Welcome Center
Jason Koski (UPhoto)

The Nevin Welcome Center serves many of the educational and outreach needs of Cornell Botanic Gardens. The center is also an important learning location for Cornell students. Located at the base of Comstock Knoll, the first floor lobby has visitor amenities. The second floor has two large multipurpose rooms, and a conference room. The building is LEED (Leadership in Environmental Design) Gold-certified and is almost as green as its surrounding gardens. Solar energy provides 40 percent of the building’s heat, while 30 percent of the building’s materials are made from recycled content. The green roof absorbs rainwater, creates a habitat for wildlife, and helps insulate the building. The building was completed in 2010 and is the heart of the botanic gardens. Unlike other LEED certified buildings on campus, the Nevin Welcome Center’s energy efficient aspects are visible to the naked eye and are not covered by walls. 

Herb Garden
Cornell Botanic Gardens

The Robison York State Herb Garden was once the location of an elementary school playground for the Forest Home community. Now it is home to more than 500 varieties of herbs. The plants are organized into 17 beds, all representing a different theme: herbs of the ancients, bee herbs, culinary herbs, dye herbs, edible flowers, economic herbs, fragrant herbs, herbs in literature, medicinal herbs, herbs of native Americans, ornamental herbs, sacred herbs, savory seed herbs, tea herbs, and tussie mussies and nosegays. Visitors to the garden always want to see Tabasco Pepper (Capsicum frutescens) in the culinary herb bed and the Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) in the Herbs in Literature bed.

Researchers across disciplines use the herb garden. Manuel A. Aregullin, School of Integrative Plant Science, recently requested samples of lemon balm for lab analysis related to Alzheimer’s disease and early menopause research. Courtney A. Roby, Classics, collaborates with other professors to test the effectiveness of herbs mentioned in ancient texts, regarding certain illnesses. The garden also supports Denise N. Green, Fiber Science and Apparel Design, in her work with natural dyes in textile classes.

Urban Trees
Cornell Botanic Gardens

Located in the F. R. Newman Arboretum, the urban tree collection showcases trees that flourish in urban environments. The location mimics urban conditions, including poorly drained and compacted soils, high soil pH, road salt spray, and open, windy weather. The urban trees include ashes, oaks, sycamores, and ginkgo.

These trees make cities more livable by moderating temperature, reducing soil corrosion, buffering noise, and beautifying the environment. They also provide corridors for wildlife in areas of limited access to vegetation. Nina L. Bassuk, School of Integrative Plant Science, researches urban trees as part of her work in the Urban Horticulture Institute. 

Nature RX
Jason Koski (UPhoto)

Nature RX is a mental health campaign implemented through Cornell’s Gannet Health Services, Cornell Botanic Gardens, and an interdisciplinary committee of faculty, staff, and students. Cornell community members suffering from physical and psychological ailments might be given a prescription to spend time in nature. Nature RX was researched and implemented at the suggestion of Donald Rakow, Horticulture, and David M. Cutter, Cornell’s campus landscape architect. The first of its kind at a college campus, it is modeled after a similar program used in Washington D.C., where physicians partnered with the National Park Services to encourage patients who suffer from mental illness to spend time in nearby parks.

A technology that supplements Nature RX is CU in Nature, a phone application that displays nearby nature and directs the user where to find the closest green space. Take it Outside, a freshman course taught by Sonja Skelly, director of education at Cornell Botanic Gardens, helps students explore hiking trails, swimming areas, and green spaces around campus. Environmental psychologist Nancy M. Wells, Design and Environmental Analysis, is a large advocate for the program and her research promotes the connection between good mental health and spending time outdoors.

Climate Change Garden
Cornell Botanic Gardens

The Climate Change Garden educates visitors about climate change and demonstrates how higher temperatures may affect the upstate New York area. Cornell Botanic Gardens is partnering with Joshua F. Cerra, Landscape Architecture, to design and manage the garden.

“Climate change is real” states a sign that greets visitors walking into the garden. Six raised beds contain plants important to agriculture (wheat, broccoli, and lettuce), as well as nectar plants. Signs guide visitors to notice aspects of each plant, including growth height, leaf compactness, and whether flowers are in bloom. A path leads into a high-tunnel, where the inside temperature is consistent with predicted local temperatures for 2050 (4-6 degrees higher than today’s averages). Six plant beds inside of the green house (identical to the beds outside) show the effects of the warmer temperatures. The high-tunnel is also set up to demonstrate different environmental conditions predicted with climate change: heat waves, heavy downpours, and droughts.

Visitors are given a questionnaire after viewing the garden to record their observations. Jonathon P. Schuldt, Communication, works with Cornell Botanic Gardens to collect and understand this data.

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Biocultural Diversity
Robert Barker (UPhoto)

The Botanical Garden and F. R. Newman Arboretum host a diverse amount of plant life. Around 40,000 plants live on 130 acres of land, including around 11,000 taxa (a plant with a specific identifying name for a genetically similar species).  Last year alone, 343 new accessions were added to the collection. Cornell Botanic Garden staff works hard to bring together a variety of plants, as well as support the research needs of Cornell’s faculty.

Besides caring for Cornell’s plant collections, the Gardens are part of the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), organizations that work to conserve and promote the importance of genetic diversity of plants around the world. Members of the APGA network about the care and curation of collections so that plant diversity is well represented in ex-situ collections suitable for them.  

The curatorial standards practiced at Cornell Botanic Gardens follow the American Alliance of Museum (AAM) standards for excellence, accrediting the Gardens as an official living collection museum.   

In addition to plant conservation, Cornell Botanic Gardens offers a beautiful place for people to interact with diverse plant life. As a way to extend this understanding of the human-plant connection, Rhoda Maurer, director of horticulture, is working to compile a network of stories from around the globe about how plants and nature have affected the human story and how cultural diversity and biodiversity are intricately intertwined.

Garden to Table
Robert Barker (UPhoto)

The Garden to Table program educates visitors about plants grown in the botanical garden and how they can be used to create culinary dishes. Along with a tour of the garden and discussion about certain plant life, visitors take part in a three-course meal prepared by the exemplary Statler Hotel and other local chefs. In 2015, the event centered around 60 varieties of peppers.  Other culinary tastings have included coffee, cloves, and chocolate, with information centered on a class that Donald Rakow, School of Integrative Plant Science, teaches each spring. In the fall of 2016, Jane Mt. Pleasant, School of Integrative Plant Science, will give a lecture about the Iroquois agricultural cropping system known as the Three Sisters, which involves an interplanting of corn, beans, and squash.  The lecture will be supplemented by dishes using corn, beans, and squash.

“We provide the place for doing and seeing,” says Sonja Skelly, director of education at Cornell Botanic Gardens. “It’s a great place to be actively engaged with the materials and plants. Being outside and able to see it, feel it, touch it, and manipulate it—you can teach theory all day, but until you come and do it—you won’t know.”

The Human-Plant Connection

The Botanical Gardens and F. R. Newman Arboretum are at the heart of Cornell Botanic Gardens. The 35-acre botanical gardens feature 12 specialty gardens including herbs, flowers, vegetables, rhododendrons, perennials, ornamental grasses, groundcovers, vines, container gardens, and plants with winter interest.

The Arboretum is a place for the scientific study and public exhibition of a diversity of trees and shrubs.  The plants are diverse and come from around the globe, including collections of nut-trees, crabapples, oaks, maples, shrubs, and urban trees. Situated in 100-acres, they foster scientific and educational research.

The Botanical Gardens and Arboretum are used for research, education, and wellness purposes. Cornell faculty and students use the Botanical Gardens and Arboretum to study many topics from Alzheimer’s disease and ancient botanicals to tolerance of urban environments. Educational programs abound in Cornell Botanic Gardens.

“The Cornell Botanic Gardens and Arboretum are a community gateway to an engaged Cornell. As a living laboratory, we are an incredible asset to the students, faculty, Ithaca community, and beyond.” Says Rhoda Maurer, director of horticulture. “In our gardens and arboretum, people can feel the human-plant connection and understand the importance of natural conservation and education.”