Brooklyn Botanic Garden adjusts to climate change
Anyone who lives in New York, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, has to notice the increase in climate-related events: long spells of high temperatures, intense storms, days with dangerous air quality.
Obviously, this affects plant life everywhere in the borough – including, of course, within the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, known worldwide for its variety of plants, trees and flowers.
Even before the recent spate of severe weather, BBG staff realized that blooming times had changed due to changing climate patterns. For example, this year, lilacs and tree peonies both bloomed much earlier than usual, at the same time as tulips, although they and the tulips usually bloom a week apart. The tulips themselves unusually bloomed early this year as well.
However, the horticultural staff has the expertise to meet any challenges these climate events will have on its outdoor trees, plants and flowers.
To begin with, sensitive plants – usually tropical plants that are not native to this region – are mainly housed in the garden’s conservatory. The ones that are planted outdoors are usually hardy, native to this area, and well-adapted to both hot and cold weather, according to Shauna Moore, the BBG’s director of horticulture.
While some people might think the Botanic Garden always has the same outdoor plants, year after year, the Garden every year changes and curates its gardens for display purposes. For its permanent collection, it selects plants for their adaptability to changing climate conditions, including its ability to withstand both cold and heat, and wet and dry conditions.
Let’s look at one threat not only to plant life but also to people and animals: Dangerous air quality, most recently coming from wildfires in Canada. Because the COVID-19 pandemic made emergency planning necessary, Moore said, “We’ve been able to pivot and close for the day for the safety of our public.”
As far as droughts are concerned, she said, “Thankfully, gardeners have water because of irrigation. We’re more able to reach these plants to make sure that they all get their requirements. That’s part of a public garden.” Still, because of increasingly extreme climates, the BBG needs to change its procedures more frequently.
In the New York area, periods of extreme heat have recently varied with thunderstorms and high winds. In extreme storms, says Moore, the Garden has suffered tree damage and washouts. The BBG, in collaboration with other botanic gardens and nurseries, is constantly evaluating what type of plants it needs to be cultivating and breeding, not only for climate change but for the future.
“We are looking at plants that are well-acclimated as well as beautiful,” Moore said.
The BBG’s horticulture department has 32 gardeners, nine seasonal gardeners, two arborists (tree specialists) and several specialized gardeners who take care of the plants within the greenhouses. There are also people who help take care of special areas such as the Children’s Garden.
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