CHAPTER VII. HARD TIMES FOR NEW YORK CITY VICINITY BOTANY
THE DECLINE OF BOTANY IN THE NEW YORK CITY METROPOLITAN AREA IN GENERAL AND ITS EFFECT ON THE TORREY BOTANICAL SOCIETY
The last director of the NYBG who was also a President of the TBC was William C. Steere. After he stepped down from the NYBG directorship everything started slowly downhill and then picked up steam. Following Steere, the relationship between the NYBG directors and the TBC/TBS became more and more distant.
A great change occurred in botany in the New York City vicinity with the many fiscal crises of the city, which were then made worse by the tax revolt under U. S. President Ronald Reagan. It is these larger political and economic trends that explain the oncoming hard times for botany in the area. As public funds dried up, more and more monies had to come from corporate donors and business in general were given much greater influence as to where botany was going to go. In addition, the new funding patterns made it possible for business to ignore, and therefore discourage, certain sub-disciplines of botany such as ecology, and encourage others, such as cancer and drug research.
Andrew Greller recalled: "Personally, I was active in conservation of natural areas since about 1970. There were some terrific fights in Queens and Staten Island then. The Staten Island Greenbelt was born out of those struggles. In Queens we were barely able to save existing parks from development. Highways had taken a terrible toll of parkland in the 1950's and 1960's.
"When I was president I tried to get the Council to take an active stand on preservation of natural areas in the NYC vicinity. I was partially successful, but past presidents feared that the Club would lose its tax-exempt status if we began to influence politics (or something like that). I was proud that Richard Forman once called me a "rabble rouser" (but he did it with a smile on his face, and half-apologetically)."
Andrew Greller wrote in a recent e-mail: "There has been a terrific change in the Club due to the demise of academic botany/natural history in the NYC area. I remember the Rutgers contingent would have five or six members at any given meeting/talk. Columbia University used to be the frequent host of the meetings in the 1960's and the CU Botany Department would encourage us graduate students to attend. NYU had a contingent as well. NYBG had Cronquist attending regularly, but no one else as I can remember. Roland Harper attended those Columbia University meetings until his death (at 96?) in the early 1960's. Annual dinners used to be held in the Faculty Club at CU in the middle of winter."
This was a period of the backlash with the death of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movement and the coming of more conservative concerns. The first inkling of the effect of the backlash on NYBG came in 1971 when the Torrey Botanical Society became concerned over the disappearance of their Local Herbarium and the consequent fear of the loss of their special Torrey Room given by the NYBG to the group in 1967 at the centennial of the TBC.
Although the administration promised that the TBC would have "the best room in the house" it certainly did not turn out that way. This may have been the first time that the NYBG administration and the botanists were no longer seen as having the same goals. In an age of air pollution and acid rain, and later the green-house effect, the NYBG administration, dependent as it is on the money of wealthy, corporate sponsors, did not see its goals as necessarily complementary to the goals of the TBC. In this new situation botanists could be potential or real radicals and possibly negatively affect the welfare of the NYBG.
The administration gave the TBC a room but it was really virtually indistinguishable from the other rooms on the third floor of the Watson Building. The only thing that indicated it was the Torrey Room was a small plastic label saying "The Torrey Room." And the room was used more for regular educational purposes than for a meeting place for Torrey members. In a way, it was sending a message to the TBC that "We don't think you are as useful to us as you once were." In a sense, the NYBG took back the gift of the room given at the 1967 TBC centennial. Andrew Greller wrote that Howard Irwin, then President of the NYBG, made a major step to discourage local botany by integrating the Torrey Collection (then housed in a separate beautiful, circular room at NYBG) into the general collection there. This was just at the time when environmentalism was emerging as a political-scientific force."
There are others sources of problems for the TBC. Especially following the 1981 Reagan made more monies available to the big corporations and these companies were none too favorable to environmentally conscious botanists. Andrew Greller wrote the author that "Promotion of botany in the NYC area has always been a daunting task and it is more difficult now, in the age of pharmaceutical-medical industry influence on promoting biochemistry to the detriment of all other aspects of biology. Ecology has always been considered a subversive science by the establishment in New York City and botany is at the core of ecology."
Mrs. William Campbell Steere (1996:363) remarked that "The association with the pharmaceutical companies goes back a long way and is now much broader in scope." She mentioned that her son, William Campbell Steere Jr., is now CEO of Pfizer and a member of the Board of Directors.
In 1971 the TBC president was Dr. Herman F. Becker of the NYBG. At the February 16, 1960 TBC meeting he had reported on his "Plant Fossil Expedition to Montana."
In 1972 the president was David Fairbrothers. Dr. Fairbrothers, now a professor emeritus at Rutgers University and respected authority on Pinelands plants, was an early influence in Pinelands protection. He is one of the contributors to the book, Pine Barrens: Ecosystem and Landscape.
In 1973 Richard Staples was the president of TBC. In 1987, Boyce Thompson Institute established the George L. McNew Distinguished Scientist position, held by Richard C. Staples, in honor of McNew's outstanding contributions to the institute.
In 1974 the president was Peter K. Nelson. In 1970 he was the TBS representative to the Board of Managers.
In 1975 the president was Calvin J. Heusser. Calvin J. Heusser earned his A. B. and A. M. at Rutgers University (1947-49), then obtained the Ph.D. at Oregon State University in 1952. After a postdoctoral appointment at Yale, he became a Research Associate of the American Geographical Society. This position led to his studies of palynornorphs in Chilean bogs, as well as his handsome book, "The Pollen and Spores of Chile" (1971). His principal work, "Late Pleistocene Environments of North Pacific North America" (1960), became a standard for Pleistocene research in the Northwest. He joined the faculty of New York University, then the Lamont Laboratory until his recent retirement. Heusser retired as the editor of Torreya in 1977.
The idea of coastal migration of Asian peoples to North American has been around for almost 40 years. It was proposed in a study of the northern Pacific coast of North America, published in 1960 by Calvin J. Heusser of the American Geographical Society. He showed that even at the height of the last Ice Age, the Pacific Northwest coast had been dotted with unglaciated pockets where unique plants and animals took sanctuary from the perpetual winter inland-and thrived. Heusser also cautiously averred that perhaps people came that way as well: "Some favor is attached here to early coastal migration in preference to the generally accepted belief of passage through the continental interior."
In 1976 the president was Arthur Cronquist.
In 1977 Joseph J. Copeland was the TBC President. At the November 16, 1976 regular meeting Dr. Copeland, formerly of C.C.N.Y., talked on the "Evolution of Cacti in the Galapagos Islands."
For a long time the TBC tried to get John Torrey into the New York University Hall of Fame. This attempt ended when the Hall of Fame went bankrupt around 1977.
In 1978 Gily Bard was the TBC president. In 1964 Dr. Gily Bard of Hunter College in the Bronx and a former student of Rutgers ecologist Dr. Murray Buell, presented a talk on "Mosses in Secondary Succession." She did her study in an area surrounding Hutchinson Memorial Forest, New Jersey.
In 1979 the president was Annette Hochberg Hervey (1920-1980). Annette Hochberg was born in New York City and lived in the Bronx. In 1939 she married her former high school teacher and was married for a total of forty years. In 1940 she graduated from Barnard College with a Phi Beta Kappa key. In 1942 she earned the M.S. degree from Smith College and in 1946 she earned her Ph.D. from Columbia under the directorship of Dr. William Jacob Robbins. The two of them soon formed a team for scientific research in the laboratory. Their partnership ended only in 1978 when Dr. Robbins died of a stroke. She was the corresponding secretary and program chair from 1959 to 1978.
JAMES MCNAUGHTON HESTER
From 1980 to 1989 James McNaughton Hester was the chief executive officer of NYBG. From 1962 to 1975 he served as the president (chief administrative officer) of New York University. Hester's father was a Navy Chaplain and so as a boy he traveled around a lot. He was in the Class of 46 at Princeton, but graduated early on an accelerated program because of World War II. After graduation he became an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He earned his bachelor's degree from Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship in the areas of philosophy, politics, and economics. After a second tour of duty with the Marines, Hester went back to Oxford and earned his Ph. D. in 1995 with a thesis on the relations between Germany and the United States in the years 1918 to 1924. He worked in business awhile, but then in 1957 became vice-president of the downtown Brooklyn Center of Long Island University. In 1960 he was the dean of both the undergraduate and graduate schools of art and sciences of New York University. Two years later he was named president of that institution.
In 1974 Dr. Hester (Waldron 1984:27) was the rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo. He said of this experience that ". . . I became very concerned about what is happening to our natural resources. I realized how badly informed most Americans are about these matters."
Then he got a call to take the position of Director of the NYBG. Donald J. Bruckman, chair of the Board of Managers, remarked (NY Times, February 29, 1980) "Historically, most, if not all, Botanical Gardens have been led by scientists. But everyone realized as the search progressed that our needs in this time of difficulty, of cutbacks in city, state and Federal funds, had changed." In other words, they needed someone who was good at "fund-raising."
When Hester took the job, he literally did not know the difference between botany and horticulture. But he soon learned. And because of his background and basic character he brought new botanical perspectives precisely because of his sensitivity to the problems of hunger, the environment, and other global concerns.
Hester hosted an international symposium entitled "The Future of the Plant Sciences: The Roles of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta" from October 6 to 8, 1980 on future trends at the botanical gardens. An outstanding keynote address was given by Rockefeller University professor and microbiologist Rene Dubos. He wanted the Gardens to get more involved with current global problems. But he was disappointed by the response of the audience, many of them taxonomists believing in pure science. He then responded to their lack of support by saying that the problems of survival were so urgent that botanists had to make their knowledge of the plant world more accessible. He said that it was not enough to continue as before, that the Gardens were too timid.
In order to get some handle on the problems and the future of botanical gardens, Hester held an internal study of the NYBG (Hester 1983). The debate led to a self-study of the NYBG that lasted for eight months and resulted in a master plan for NYBG. The group of botanists in the group working on the master plan decided to keep the stress on taxonomy at NYBG, but to venture into applied areas with money drawn from other outside sources. Hester (1983:31) wrote: "I believe systematics will benefit from a stronger connection with applied plant science. Important as taxonomy is, by its nature it is of interest primarily to scientists. In a more leisurely era, such work needed no justification other than the value of the pursuit of knowledge about the nature of nature. But now the destruction of species demands an accelerated, more focused, and more fully supported effort on the part of plant scientists."
The end result was three applied areas: 1) Institute of Ecosystems Study headed by Dr. Gene Likens (who with a scientist from Yale originally identified the acid rain problem in the United States) with the goal of educating students, the public, and policy-makers about ecological problems such as the effects of acid rain and ozone pollution; 2) the Institute for Economic Botany with the mission of finding new sources of drugs and food for human uses; and 3) the Institute of Urban Horticulture. Hester described the master plan as "radical."
In 1980 Richard T. T. Forman was the president of TBC. He now teaches at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design as Professor of Advanced Environmental Studies in the Field of Landscape Ecology. Along with Wenche E. Dramstad, and James D. Olson, he wrote Landscape Ecology: Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-use Planning.
In 1981 Dr. Prance became the Director of the Institute of Economic Botany. Dr. Michael Balick later became its second director. Also in 1981 Cronquist came out with a refined system of botanical classification with his book An Integrated System of Classification of Flowering Plants.
In 1981 Noel H. Holmgren was the TBC president. Holmgren, Noel H. 1972. Plant Geography of the Intermountain Region. In: Intermountain Flora Vol. 1, eds. Arthur Cronquist, Arthur H. Holmgren, Noel H. Holmgren, and James L. Reveal, 77-161. New York: Hafner Publishing Company. His specialties are taxonomy of the Scrophulariaceae and floristics of Western North America.
Index Herbariorum is a joint project of the International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT) and The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), providing a directory of 3000+ public herbaria and the 8800+ staff members associated with them. Information returned includes mailing addresses, contacts, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, herbarium code and research areas--all updated frequently (with online forms to do so). It is a great resource for finding herbaria and contact persons that is coordinated by Patricia K. Holmgren and Noel H. Holmgren, NYBG. In addition, with others, Noel Holmgren worked on the Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual: Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, New York Botanical Garden Press.
In 1982 James Quinn was president of TBC. At the time the editor of the Bulletin was David Hammond. Member of the Board of Managers of the NYBG was Myron Ledbetter. The Chairman of the Local Flora and Vegetation Committee was Dr. Andrew Greller.
Dr. Quinn got his B.S. from the Oklahoma Panhandle State University (Crops and Soils) in 1961; his M.S. from Colorado State University, College of Natural Resources, 1963; and his Ph.D. also from Colorado State University, Botany (Plant Ecology), in 1966. A primary focal point of his research has been the genetic diversity within and among populations of a species, specifically the diversity of physiological, morphological, and life-history adaptations for establishment, reproduction, and survival in different habitats. This led to studies of populational genetic differentiation along latitudinal, altitudinal, moisture, soil pollution, and grazing pressure gradients, and to studies of the relative amounts of genetically-based phenotypic plasticity among populations of differing ecological histories (resource levels, environmental predictability, disturbance history). Most recently, he and his students were involved in studies of the evolution of plant reproductive strategies and breeding systems among populations of the same species in different habitats and geographic regions.
In 1983 Philip Ammirato was president of TBC. The editor of the Bulletin was James Gunckel. Dr. Ammirato received his B.A. from City College of New York and his Ph. D. from Cornell. In 1987 he was at the Department of Biological Sciences, Barnard College of Columbia University; Manager, Developmental Genetics, DNA Plant, Technology Corporation. Probably from 1974 he was at Barnard College, the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Biological Sciences.
In 1984 Myron Ledbetter was TBC president. Myron Ledbetter of the Biology Department at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Keith Porter of Rockefeller University discovered cortical microtubules in plant cells and therefore helped establish the microtubule-cellulose microfibril paradigm.
Lawrence J. Crockett was president back in 1970, but in 1985 he was elected TBC president once again. The vice-president was Thomas Delendick. David Fairbrothers was a member of the Board of Managers of the NYBG.
In 1986 the president of TBC was Donald Ritchie (1914-1987), while the vice-president was Dr. Richard Stalter. William J. Crotty was the member of the Board of Managers of NYBG. Professor Ritchie was born in Atlanta, Georgia and educated at Furman University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received his doctorate. He served as an officer in the Untied States Navy during World War II. For 31 years, from 1948 to 1979, he taught biology, botany and cell biology at Barnard College.
THE BASILE ERA
In 1987 Dominick Basile of Lehman College was the president of TBC. There was gradually to develop from this a long period of time in which Dr. Basile dominated the TBC. Through his influence and dominance he was able to place a lot of Lehman botanists onto the TBC council. He was even able to become TBC president twice, being chosen again in 1996 (with his wife the president in 1994). A good question is whether or not the TBC had become so weak that the club could become dominated so much by one person.
A lot of influence on TBC at this time was to come from Lehman College. The "Botany Department" there was never a "Botany Department" but always the Plant Sciences subprogram of the Biology Department. Basile did a lot of work on the suppression hypothesis, now involved in isolating arabinogalactin proteins from membranes via radioactive isotope labelling with antibodies. Morphology in his opinion is cell-surface mediated by the glycoproteins on the surface of the membrane and not by the genes.
In 1988 Andrew Greller was president of the TBC. After completing a wide range of botany courses and presenting a thesis on developmental floral morphology, Greller received the Ph.D. from Columbia University. The results of his doctoral research were published in two papers, one in American Journal of Botany and one in Botanical Gazette. He returned to his home borough in New York City to take the positions of Assistant Professor at Queens College, teaching plant morphology.
It was soon obvious that lack of adequate research facilities would make it impossible for him to pursue his interest in experimental morphology at Queens College, so he sought retraining instead in vegetation ecology. He had always enjoyed the outdoors and looked forward to building a botany career "in the field".
For the summers of 1970-72 he won NSF awards to participate in ecological research at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), University of Colorado. Working with Dr. Pat Webber in 1970, Greller studied tundra damage at their field station. He conducted an independent study of tundra damage in Rocky Mountain National Park, in 1971. During the summer of 1972 he taught an NSF-sponsored course, Field Ecology: Alpine and Sub-alpine for INSTAAR. His researches led to two publications, one in Biological Conservation.
When he found that little had been published on vegetation of Long Island, he began to research variation in local forest composition. A number of papers resulted, published mostly in Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club (BTBC), and one in the Botanical Gazette.
Working under the direction of D.I. Axelrod, he undertook a study of Florida climate, vegetation, and paleontology and in 1989 published the results in a thirty-page paper in BTBC. Main results of this study were: (1) recognition of the Broadleaved Evergreen Forest of central Florida as zonal vegetation, (2) more data in support of the recognition of the climate of central Florida as unique in the eastern U.S., and (3) correlation of three Florida forest types with three of C. Hart Merriam's life-zones. I have extended these vegetation-climate analyses to the Deciduous Forest region, eastern Mexico, and all of eastern North America.
His thorough grounding in the literature of U.S. paleobotany, under the direction of Dr. Axelrod, led him to recognize the palynoflora of the Legler Lignite (Miocene, New Jersey), described by Linda Rachele, as representing in part a forest flora and a climate type that no longer exist in eastern North America. Instead, this flora and climate are still found above 4500' in the Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico. After some field reconnaissance in Mexico, he co-authored with Dr. Rachele a paper on the subject which was published in Review of Paleobotany and Palynology. Another paper was published in Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, in which he compared zonal forests of eastern Mexico with those of southeastern North America.
Recently Greller published reviews of southeastern U.S. coastal plains forests and Pacific North American rain forests that were incorporated into a number of chapters in UNESCO MAB/Enciclopedia Catalana's "Biosfera, Vol. 6: Temperate Forests of the World." As of the year 2000 he was awaiting publication of a chapter on North and Central American vegetation for a book on Ethnobotany of the American Indians.
In 1980, he won a Fulbright Senior Lectureship and spent nearly a year in Sri Lanka, at the Botany Department of the University of the Perideniya (Ceylon). There he undertook research on composition, bioclimatology, and leaf-size analyses of zonal forest. Results have so far been published in: Journal of South Asian Natural History; a Symposium Volume published in Germany; in Journal of Tropical Ecology (Cambridge University Press); Sri Lanka Forester (2 papers); and Loris (2) semi-popular articles).
With NSF sponsorship he returned to work in Sri Lanka, and also went to India in 1984-85 and once again 1986-87 to continue compositional studies of South Indian Lower Montane forests. In the summer of 1989 he continued the work in South India, and also visited Lower Montane forests in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. He is co-writing a paper comparing the composition of lower montane forests in India and Sri Lanka.
After serving Queens College since 1967, Greller retired at the beginning of 1998, but continued his service by taking the rank of Professor Emeritus. Students and colleagues recognized Professor Greller as an effective, popular teacher and he inspired many students to a career in botany and botany-related fields. Day and overnight field trips and mountain hikes were a regular feature of his advanced courses. Moreover, his interest in local conservation and education has led to a three-year appointment to the New York State Commission on Natural and Historical Conservation in Northeastern Queens. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan NYC Forest Council.
Since his days as a graduate student Greller was active in the Torrey Botanical Society, holding the offices of President, Vice President (twice), Member of the Council (2000-2002), Field Committee Chairman, Local Flora and Vegetation Committee Chairman, and Editor of Book Reviews. As President he was instrumental in organizing the first meeting of the Metropolitan Flora Subcommittee, which he chaired as Chairman of the Local Flora and Vegetation Committee.