Set on 250 acres and home to one million living plants, the New York Botanical Garden is one of our Happy Places even (especially!) during the winter. When the season’s flinging its worst, the paperbark maple near the Seasonal Walk, its trunk peeling in shades of copper, is showing its best. Same thing goes for the water lilies in the aquatic garden, the stiff starburst Bismarkia in the “Palm Dome,” and the opportunistic orchids in the lowland tropics room, all housed inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. The setup seems designed to send you back into the world a smarter and more centered person, to stretch your boundaries for astonishment in a city that’s seen it all.
Like the Whitney or the Guggenheim, NYBG is a museum. But in place of paintings, plants are the focus. Being a classical botanical garden, the organization is dedicated to studying, preserving, exhibiting and teaching us about the world’s horticulture. Researchers go on international expeditions throughout the year to collect flora.
Last month we took a trip up to NYBG in the Bronx, which holds a whopping 30,000 mature trees alone; we walked the landscape, played Guess That Deciduous Branch, and spent hours exploring the toasty, sun-drenched Haupt Conservatory, whose greenhouses cultivate tropical, desert and aquatic plants.
Initially we thought it would be a production to get up here. But it turns out NYBG is just 20 minutes from Grand Central on Metro North. The Garden has its own station on the Harlem local line, which drops you off right across the street. Details here.
The garden is just 20 minutes from Grand Central on Metro North.
We bought our tickets and entered through the Mosholu Gate located directly across the street from the train station.
This gleaming paperback maple (Acer griseum) is a crowd favorite thanks to its exfoliating bark, which adds showy interest to winter gardens.
See the way it catches the midday light? In the spring, this paperback maple (Acer griseum) will grow three-lobed leaves with gray undersides.
We visited on January 1st — a great way to start the year. We saw plants we’d never seen before — like the Cavendishia grandifolia, whose cartoonish tubular flowers are green, white and cosmic pink with an acrylic sheen, growing in clusters resembling udders — and plants that we have seen before, like bromeliads and anthuriums, only taken to the nth degree in size and number. The ferns were on fleek. Some (like the Mexican tree fern) were taller than both of us combined and others (like the staghorn) grew together in a massive chandelier that looks like it’s been engulfed in green flames. The vines (jade, Dutchman’s pipe) that we saw in the aquatic section inspired us to get some more for our own home.
By the way, don’t miss the garden’s series of Orchid Evenings!
So deep in winter, and so much to see. Explore the garden with us below.
Sunshine over the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a glasshouse in the Victorian style. The “rooms” within include “Deserts of Africa,” “Deserts of the Americas” and “Upland Tropical Rain Forest.”
In fact, here they are! A map of the conservatory. We started in the “Palms of the World” garden and walked clockwise. Take a virtual tour here.
New York Botanical Garden: Palms of the World
Our first stop was the “Palm Dome,” whose highlights include the Puerto Rican hat palm, Australian tree ferns and cycads that made for dreamy (make that treemy) overhead views.
The overhead views are divine in the palm tree garden.
Below the canopy of palm trees are shade loving plants including Maranta leuconeura, or prayer plant.
From left, nerve plant (Fittonia albivenis) and Crypthathus bromeliads.
Lowland Tropical Rain Forest
The air is muggy — can you tell? And the room is awash with leafy things. Enormous, heart-shaped anthurium leaves do their thing among cocoa trees whose modest white flowers growing directly from the bark.
A human-made arched kapok tree with an assortment of bromeliads, orchids and anthurium.
Cattleya maxima (orchid) mix with species of bromeliads and anthuriums on that hand-crafted repro of a kapok tree.
Theobroma cacao or cocoa plant.
As you can see, that cocoa tree is fruiting. The plant is cauliflorous, meaning its flowers and fruits grow directly from trunks and branches, rather than from twigs.
Another kapok tree in the lowland rain forest gallery.
Aquatic Plants and Vines
Plenty of vine-spiration here in the vine and aquatic plants section. We took back several ideas for our home, including planting a jade vine (flowers are an unreal shade of turquoise) and a Dutchman’s pipe, which blooms in flat, velvety, heart-shaped flowers, and whose buds resemble (what’ll ya know) tobacco pipes. We were tempted to try growing the Indian clock vine, but we don’t think that we have enough humidity in our zone 10B garden.
Three arched trellises form layers of vines over the pond. First is Dutchman’s pipe, then Indian clock vine and jade vine.
Above, Thunbergia mysorensis, also called Mysore trumpetvine or Indian clock vine.
Stunning, right? Another view of the Indian clock vine.
We love this too: Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys). We were so inspired we’ve already ordered one for our garden for our new copper trellises.
Manyflower marsh pennywort, or dollarweed (Hydrocotyle umbellata).
Vanda orchids and Spanish moss cut a romantic shape against the glass.
Cyperus alternifolius ‘Variegatus.’ Also known as umbrella papyrus.
Upland Tropical Rain Forest
Here we caught up with some of our favorite epiphytes, like the bromeliads that have taken over trees for physical support. (We also saw the largest bro’ we’ve ever seen.) Could this inspire a DIY project at home?
Also ahead: the madcap flowers of neotropical berries!
Aechmea fasciata takeover!
Aechmea nudicaulis grow out of this tree.
Now we’re tempted to wrap a tree or post with bromeliads. Chicken wire over long fibre sphagnum seems to do the trick.
Ceratostema rauhii in a hanging basket. Is anyone else getting Cousin Itt? A pair of sunglasses and the look would be complete.
Imperial bromeliad or Vriesea imperialis on the left. Mexican tree fern (Cibotium Schiedei) and some eerie photobombing on the right.
Ryan versus the Mexican tree fern.
Another imperial bromeliad. This cultivar is Vriesea imperialis ‘Malbec.’
Ceratostema silvicola, or sagalita. Its neotropical blueberries grow in the threatened cloud forests of the Andes.
A Cavendishia grandifolia (another neotropical blueberry) in flower. The berries are edible and up to four times richer in antioxidants compared to temperate blueberries, NYBG research has found.
The route to the Deserts of the Americas room.
Deserts of the Americas
The mood here is bluer, drier and also more familiar. Our beloved air plants mix with cacti and yucca we see in our own yard and neighborhood.
Tillandsia (air plant) assortments line the entrance to Deserts of the Americas. From left: Tillandsia albida, Tillandsia bergeri (2), Tillandsia jucunda, Tillandsia hondurensis, Tillandsia streptophylla and Tillandsia xerographica.
Yucca faxoniana, or Spanish dagger.
Mother-of-pearl plant, or ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense).
Echinocactus grusonii or golden barrel cactus.
Cereus hildmannianus ‘Monstrosus’ or giant club.
An Agave attenuata (foxtail agave) flower tangles with a nearby tree cactus.
Also known as old man cactus for its thick wool, this species is pollinated largely by bats.
Deserts of Africa
We’re in awe of these plants that have evolved to survive the Sahara: towering euphorbias with upraised quilted arms, stone-like Lithops succulents, and a Madagascar palm that is a prickly wonder.
The Lithops collection.
Silver dollar plant (Xerosicyos danguyi).
Crassula ovata, or jade plant. The blossomy snowballs remind us of our own plant.
Desert candle (Euphorbia abyssinica).
Pachypodium rutenbergianum, or Madagascar palm.
The carnivorous plants display.
Brocchina reducta (top) is one of a few species of carnivorous bromeliads.
A Nepenthes truncata pitcher plant dangles overhead.
Platycerium alcicorne (staghorn ferns) are arranged like chandeliers.
Stapelia gigantea, or giant starfish flower.
Water tassel fern, or rock tassel fern (Huperzia squarrosa).
The train show is a major draw during the holidays. We bypassed the long lines to focus on the plants instead, but got to see some of the toy locomotives in action.
Inspired by past Horticult subject Natalie Bessell, we walk through Tulip Tree Allée on our way to check out the botanical illustration exhibit at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library.
The tulip trees were dormant for the winter but we still stopped to admire the fruits’ outer rings of winged seeds still in place on their stems.
Sorry sir, no photos!
It was a good trip. Hopefully we’ll be back in time to see the magnolias in bloom!