This is the address that caused the TBS Council to re-act like a bunch of rich Republican businessmen. With botanists who act like wealthy developers, it sure makes the job of censorship by the wealthy much easier.  (One slight change to the wording of one sentence has been made: "people of high quality" to "people highly trained in field botany.")



Dr. Patrick L. Cooney

I have been very active in the field trips and in field botany in general for ten years or so now. I have gone to hundreds and hundreds of parks and preserves over these years. The result of this extensive travel is that I am often saddened by what I see: strip developments and suburbanization encircling our parks and preserves; the contempt of the young for the parks in using them as local drinking and hangout places; the destruction brought by the mountain bikes, and worse, by the off-road vehicles; the obvious death of many of the trees on our mountain peaks, especially in Harriman and Bear Mountain parks; and the overwhelming onslaught of some of our invasives, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Because of the increasing loss of our local flora, the field section of the Torrey Botanical Society needs to make an historical change in its approach. To explain the new direction in which I think we should be going, it is necessary to present some historical background. Both the academic and field botanists did not really give field botany its just due.

The history of the TBC/TBS over time is one of a largely linear downward interest in local flora. There have been some notable exceptions, but just as the earth experienced an increase in green-house gases, the Club experienced a decrease in interest in local flora. So at the very time we most needed to pay attention to local flora because of the death of many of our trees and shrubs, the interest in local flora bottomed out at a low level -- certainly a level so low that there was no clear accounting of the damage being done to the local flora by the combined forces of global warming, pollution, heavy traffic and the wrong kind of traffic, and urbanization.

The Torrey Botanical Club grew out of an interest in the local flora. So many people were bringing in interesting plants they had found and so many people wanted to talk about these plants that meetings and informal field trips were begun. Field trips actually began back in 1858 and the informal meetings began perhaps as early as the 1840s. Eventually those with a common interest in the local flora wanted to start an organization for the purpose of exploring the local flora more systematically. And so the Torrey Botanical Club was formally organized in 1867.

There was a unity of purpose between the academics and the amateur botanists in those early days. The amateur botanists in the field often fed information to the academic botanists who in turn compiled floras of the larger New York Metropolitan Region. The big names of academic botany in the region were "into" field botany so they could compile their floras. As the organization became better known and more information came into the Club, the range of this larger region became defined as the area within 100 miles of New York City.

Local field botany was so important that TBC members could support a separate journal just devoted to that subject. This was started in 1900 and became known as Torreya.

As the floras were published, the interests of the academics in the local flora began to wane. So they decided to emphasize other areas of the country that were not so well studied. Many academic botanists began to explore the American South and then increasingly the American West. And when that botany became well known, the emphasis went abroad to places like the Amazon.

Over time interest in the field trips declined. Fewer and fewer people discussed local flora and more and more of Torreya became as academic as the Bulletin. The actual plant lists were not usually kept. The academics were more concerned with publishing the overall results in a flora than in the continuing study of the local flora. Because the botanists with their emphasis on floras were interested only in the general findings and too little detail was published of the plant lists in the Bulletin. The tradition of not fully recording the results of field trips nor keeping the lists largely continued. There are a few more full publications of plants found on some of the field trips but these are few and far between and certainly not systematic. This failure to keep plant lists is an especially tragic given the onslaught of the "green-house effect" and the twin evils of urbanization/suburbanization.

The tradition of the field trips continued but they became less and less important in the overall context of academic botany. There started to occur a real split between the academic botanists and the "amateur" field botanists. This can best be seen in the work of probably the most influential field chairman the TBS has ever had, namely Raymond H. Torrey. Torrey was the field chair from 1928 to 1938 and he was running up to 100 field trips per year. What historical plant lists we do have today mostly come from the Torrey era. He, for the first time, gave the field trips the respect they deserved. For the first time, each individual trip was discussed in detail and a considerable plant list was provided.

Torrey was so dissatisfied with the academic orientation of the TBC that he asked for permission more or less to run his own show. He complained that the TBC never discussed anything much of interest to the field trip participants, namely such subjects as plant taxonomy and ecology. Torrey wanted to have meetings separate from TBC while still maintaining an overall connection. Torrey was so active and so influential that this even began to influence the academic botanists, and he became the TBC president in 1938. Unfortunately, because of the overwork he suddenly died while in office.

His influence was felt for several years after his death (probably until about 1945 when Torreya was put back into the Bulletin). From then on the field section slipped back into its usual situation of being ignored by the larger organization and the academic botanists. After 1945 there were some good field trip reports, but many of the trip descriptions were no more than mere mentions that a trip(s) had taken place.

Trends continued downward to such an extent that in 1959 the Torrey Botanical Club thought that the field program was in danger of being discontinued for lack of interest. The then president of the Club, Dr. Rickett, asked fellow NYBG employee Joseph Monachino to take over the position of field chair and save the program. Monachino breathed life into the field section all right, but unfortunately he died after just a little over two years in the position.

The overall quality of the reports probably did not pick up again somewhat until the chairmanship of Karl Anderson. Karl Anderson’s attitude was similar to that of Raymond Torrey’s. He observed that, with a few notable exceptions, the academic botanists did not care about local flora or field trips or the participants in the field trips. Karl started to offer more field trips and to diversify the trips given.

Apologizing for any appearance of arrogance in talking about myself and for speaking perhaps too optimistically, things really started to change again with the field chairmanship of Dr. Patrick L. Cooney. Cooney, being an historian and sociologist, was a fanatical botanical list maker (perhaps because he was not as good of a field botanist as those with a lifetime in botany). When Cooney became field chair he quickly made use of the new technology of the web to make the plant lists available too all who might be interested in field botany and our local flora. Today the number of lists (some superb, some just getting started) has reached over a thousand.

Then a field trip to Hook Mountain in the year 2000 brought out forcefully the need for a change of emphasis in the field section. One could see the sudden destruction of the trees and shrubs on Hook Mountain and the quick devouring of the mountain by the troublesome black swallowwort (Vincetoxicum nigrum). Something would have to be done to document this destruction of our local flora. More attention would have to be paid to this phenomenon of the "green-house effect."

Cooney then started inputting historical lists as well as current lists onto the Torrey website. Hopefully, the emphasis will change from not just documenting what plants we have to including a documentation of what plants we have lost. Cooney’s zeal for this project and his great appreciation of the help given by the field participants in documenting the state of our local flora served to increase the number of field trips and the number of outstanding field botanists attending the trips. Before Cooney, very few people highly trained in field botany attended the field trips. For instance, most of the trip leaders only came to their own field trips. But now, highly educated participants, especially the New Jerseyans such as Linda Kelly, Joseph Labriola, Mary and Charles Leck, John Medallis, Charlotte Newstead, and Dr. William F. Standaert, with the assistance of a few New Yorkers such as Judith Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Scott, and Michael St. John, were coming out on many of the trips.

At some point, the field section will want to ask the academic botanists for some assistance. We need a semi-controversial year long program of speakers talking about what has been happening to our local flora. This program should discuss the green-house effect and the role of pollution in destroying our vegetation, projections of the rates of further urbanization/suburbanization and their effects, and a discussion of what other organizations have been doing to combat the trends and how TBS can coordinate with them. I personally have the feeling that in another 30 years of so there won’t be much of any land left unused and we will be unable to expand our park systems further, so our time is rather limited. The entire TBS needs to realize the full importance of our local flora and the importance of our documenting much of its disappearance. This just might help us save some of it.