The Torrey Botanic Society Anniversary Symposium to Celebrate 150 Years of Natural History

Friday, September 15th, 2017, New York Botanical Garden

Founded in 1867, The Torrey Botanical Society is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017! This day-long symposium features a range of speakers addressing the past, present, and future of the flora and natural history of New York City and the region. The following day, Saturday, September 16th, there will be an optional local Field Trip, organized by the Torrey Botanical Society Field Committee.

Registration Information

The registration fee is $25 for all attendees. In addition to the program of speakers, this fee includes a continental breakfast and post-symposium reception. Attendees may bring their own lunch, or pre-purchase a boxed lunch for an additional fee of $15.

To register, visit

Symposium Program

The day begins with a continental breakfast, complimentary with your registration. The main program includes five speakers, with a break for lunch.

  • Jessica L. Allen: Lichens of New York City: Past, Present, and Future
  • Robert Naczi: What would Torrey do? Floras and floristics in the northeastern U.S.A. and adjacent Canada
  • Eric Sanderson: The Welikia Project: On the Historical Ecology of New York City
  • Lena Struwe: From Vasculums to iPhones: 150 years of botanical field research technology in a nutshell
  • Peter del Tredici: The Introduction of Japanese Plants into North America (with a Torrey Botanical Club Footnote)

The day will conclude with a Panel Discussion among the speakers, moderated by Susan K. Pell, Science and Public Programs Manager, United States Botanic Garden. Dennis Wm. Stevenson, President, Torrey Botanical Society, and Vice President for Science and Cullman Curator, The New York Botanical Garden, will provide Opening and Closing Remarks, and present a Torrey Distinguished Service Award. The day concludes with a wine and beer reception, also included in your registration.

Symposium Speakers and Abstracts

Jessica L. Allen: Lichens of New York City: Past, Present, and Future

Jessica L. Allen, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Researcher

Abstract: Lichens, organisms formed by intimate cooperation between fungi and algae, grow worldwide in habitats from the frozen tundra of Antarctica to the tropical rainforest in Brazil. While they can withstand extreme climate conditions, most lichens are sensitive to air pollution. Studying the lichens that occur in an area provides valuable information about the air quality and environmental health. In this talk a detailed discussion of the change in lichen communities in New York City through the past century and corresponding change in air quality will be presented. Reports of lichens from the New York metropolitan area date back to the 19th century, with the first list of species published in 1823, and continue through the present. The findings from previously published literature were combined with results of recent surveys of lichens in Central Park, Freshkills Park, and the Highline. The general trend shows that lichen diversity was very high in the New York metropolitan area in the 19th century, it then sharply declined in the 20th century, and has increased slightly in the 21st century. To test how much the air quality has improved in New York City, sensitive lichens were reintroduced to the Bronx in The New York Botanical Garden. The reintroduction was successful, and highlights the possibility of increasing biodiversity in urban areas through continued improvement of the air quality and pollution.

Robert Naczi: What would Torrey do? Floras and floristics in the northeastern U.S.A. and adjacent Canada

Robert F. C. Naczi, Arthur J. Cronquist Curator of North American Botany, The New York Botanical Garden

Abstract: In 1843, John Torrey completed both A Flora of North America and A Flora of the State of New York, setting a high standard of scholarship for all subsequent Floras in North America. If Torrey could return now to spend some time with his beloved flora, what would he think? What would most surprise him? What would he do? This presentation will address these questions by reviewing the states of botanical knowledge during Torrey’s time and the present day, evaluating consequences of major developments and discoveries, and considering the future of Floras and floristics. Especially germane are key developments in plant systematics, floristic knowledge, floristic documentation, landscape-scale floristic change, and conservation. Advances, many of them recent, have deepened understanding of our flora far beyond that of Torrey’s day. However, serious concerns about floristic change and conservation make the future uncertain. Much remains to be accomplished before we can consider any Flora of the Northeast truly final—a realization that is simultaneously humbling and inspiring. No doubt, Torrey would strive to make our flora better known and appreciated, just as he did.

Eric Sanderson: The Welikia Project:  On the Historical Ecology of New York City

Eric W. Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist, Wildlife Conservation Society

Abstract: Dr. John Torrey made his name as a botanist with the publication of a Catalogue of Plants growing spontaneously within Thirty Miles of the City of New York in 1819.  Nearly 200 years later, this book remains a primary source for reconstructing the ecology of landscapes much transformed — before, during, and after Torrey’s time — by urbanization.  With Torrey’s appreciation of “Bloomingdale woods” and the “cedar swamps of Weehawk” in mind, I will discuss the some of the recent findings of the Welikia Project (the successor and expansion of the Mannahatta Project) on the historical ecology of New York City.  New York is remarkable not only for its tall buildings and wide avenues, but also its geology, soils, fortunate climate, exemplary geography, and its many and changeable inhabitants, from the trout lily and downy rattlesnake plantain to the once mighty American chestnut.  Uncovering the ecological neighborhoods that underlie the modern ones encourages to appreciate how one generation gives to the next problems and possibilities.  Thinking from Hudson to Torrey, and Torrey to our own time, begs the question of what we are giving to the future of plants and people now?

Lena Struwe: From Vasculums to iPhones: 150 years of botanical field research technology in a nutshell

Lena Struwe, Associate Professor, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources & Director of the Chrysler Herbarium, Rutgers University

Abstract: Botany is a remarkable science when it comes to the longevity and resilience of our field tools and data. The tools of the past are often the tools of the present and future with some modifications. Botanical knowledge and basic field methods have survived hundreds of years. The same type of herbarium presses have been in use for centuries, and herbarium labels are following the same format and content as when the first botanists started to do excursions in the Northeast. But many things changed as well.  Vasculums as containers for collecting plants have been replaced by ziplock bags. Field books are now often handheld digital devices with wireless connections that obtain fast and detailed GPS coordinates and let us upload our notes, and a quick e-mail to an expert has replaced a handwritten or typed up letter.  Recorded sightings are now shared through a quick upload to iNaturalist instead of as a species lists published months later in print.  Plant identification tools have gone from rare books to interactive websites and forums with easy-access experts (and less rare books), but in the end, we still have to check for the hairs, leaf margin types, and number of pistils. What has been gained, what has been lost, what can be preserved and developed to ensure quality of data and observations? This presentation will present timeline of botanical tools and communication systems in the context of the history of materials, production techniques, and innovation for the tools botanists used and use.

Peter del Tredici: The Introduction of Japanese Plants into North America (with a Torrey Botanical Club Footnote)

Peter del Tredici, Senior Research Scientist Emeritus, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University & Visiting Lecturer of Applied Ecology and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Abstract: This presentation describes the history of plant introductions from Japan into North America, from the Perry Expedition in 1854 through the collections of George Rogers Hall of Bristol, Rhode Island and Thomas Hogg of New York City between 1861 and 1875. Both men sent plants to the innovative nurseryman, Samuel Bowne Parsons of Flushing, Long Island, who propagated and sold them to the gardening public. This process, which took more than twenty years from initial collection through commercial distribution, succeeded in adding innumerable Japanese species into the ornamental landscapes of North America, including Japanese maple, kousa dogwood, panicle hydrangea, and Sawara cypress. Unfortunately these early introductions also included a number of species which escaped cultivation and have become infamously invasive, including oriental bittersweet, kudzu, porcelain berry, and Japanese honeysuckle. The pioneering work of these three horticulturists–compounded over the past hundred and fifty years–has had a profound impact on both cultivated and wild landscapes across North America. An interesting sidelight to this story is that Thomas Hogg, along with his nurseryman brother James, and the botanist James Thurber, who was the first to describe many of these introductions, were all active members of the Torrey Botanical Club.