History of the Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Photo: Acroterion [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Not many people outside of New York would realize that the borough of the Bronx showcases a magnificent presentation of wildlife and nature in two separate locations. The Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden represent the Bronx on the world’s grand stage in great triumph. The Bronx Zoo is a popular choice to visit among people living in New York City and the surrounding suburbs. Kids love animals (we all love animals) and so school trips and parents flock with their kids to the Bronx zoo on a daily basis in New York. Nonetheless, New York’s Bronx Botanical Gardens is a spectacular museum that serves as a vehicle for stunning displays of living plant collections arranged in gardens and landscapes by curators with a long history of academic excellence in the fields of horticulture.

The Bronx New York Botanical Garden ties to the academic world defines the sites’ rich history. Its that history of the Bronx New York Botanical Garden which will stand as the focus of this article. One more note, as one who grew up in the neighborhood of the Bronx close to the Bronx New York Botanical Garden, we never called it the Bronx New York Botanical Garden. We used to just call it the Botanical Gardens.

The history of the Bronx Botanical Gardens does not start in the Bronx. Its history began in 1801 when a Columbia University Professor financed a section of New York Real Estate to grow plants to be studied by medical students. Professor David Hosack developed twenty acres of land in the section of Manhattan which would eventually become the real estate in which Rockefeller Center was built on. Like a good percentage of purchased real estate in Manhattan, it would be sold within ten years. However, David Cosack wound up selling the land to the State of New York and supposedly took a financial loss on the sale which is not surprising if you have ever dealt with New York State before in real estate issues. Eventually, New York State would grant the land to Columbia University. The school would then rent the land to local farmers in an attempt to raise money for the University.

One of Professor David Hosacks former students named John Torrey became a trustee at Columbia University. During his tenure as a Columbia Trustee, John Torrey established the Torrey Botanical Club. Nathaniel Lord Britton was a botany professor at Columbia University during the time of Torrey’s tenure. As a member of the Torrey Botanical Club, Britton along with his wife Elizabeth Britton Knight pursued the establishment of a large botanical garden sight in New York. Their pursuit was inspired by a visit to England in which they took in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. The Brittons worked hard back in the States to create a Botanical Garden in the U.S. Their pursuit was rewarded when New York State enacted legislature to establish the New York Botanical Garden in 1891.

Seven years before the New York State Legislature established the New York Botanical Garden, the State had also established the New Parks Act of 1984. In a section that ran along the Bronx River and East Fordham Road, the Bronx Park was established. New York State acquired land from Fordham University and the estate of Pierre J. Lorillard IV in establishing part of the Bronx Park. It was on the northern end of Bronx Park and sections of land previously owned by Pierre J. Lorillard IV that the New York Botanical Garden would be built. The Bronx Park would also host the Bronx Zoo as both attractions are located right next to each other. Some of the buildings that were previously built and owned by Pierre J. Lorillard IV such as a stone snuff mill would be retained on the grounds.

Even through New Y State had established the New York Botanical Garden, they refused to finance its construction. The development and building of what would become the Bronx New York Botanical Gardens was financed by philanthropists and legendary titans of business and finance Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan. The New York Horticultural Society led by Lord Britton would acquire two hundred and fifty acres of the Bronx Park for the location of the New York Botanical Gardens with the help of twenty five thousand dollar donations by the philanthropists.

The New York Botanical Garden would name Nathaniel Lord Britton as its director. Construction began on the outdoor gardens and the surrounding structures that would serve as museums, research facilities and buildings to provide education to students and the public. There was no grand opening of the New York Botanical Garden. The land and its surrounding structures developed over time.

One can’t ignore the popularity of the study of botany at the turn of the nineteenth century. The development and realization of the Bronx Botanical Gardens was due to the importance of botany in the fields of education research centered around New York’s Columbia University and The New York Horticultural Society that it gave birth to.

Support of the New York Botanical Garden continued throughout the 20th century. Noted botanists Henry Gleason and Arthur Cronquist would play prominent roles in the history of the Bronx New York Botanical Garden. Henry Gleason would spend thirty years of his career working at the Bronx New York Botanical Gardens. His work there became a major influence in the study of vegetation. Arthur Cronquist would begin working at the Bronx Botanical Gardens in 1943 and with the help of Henry Gleason would publish some of the most important work in the study of botany. Both Gleason and Cronquist were affiliated with Columbia University in extending the prestigious University’s role in shaping the field of botany and its connections with the New York Botanical Gardens.

Many of us who grew up or are still living in Bronx probably have never realized the scope of research and scientific knowledge that has occurred and been developed at the Bronx’s New York Botanical Gardens. The New York Botanical Garden also known as the NYBG stands as the largest Botanical Gardens in the United States. The Bronx Botanical Gardens host over one million plants showcased in the center’s fifty gardens. The center’s diversity in plants, tress, vegetation, educational opportunitys and research is unparalleled anywhere else in the United States.

More pictures of the Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Bronx River: Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Yes, this waterfall below is in the Bronx at the Bronx New York Botanical Garden.

Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Photo: King of Hearts [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

LuEsther T. Mertz Library: Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Photo: King of Hearts / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Bronx New York Botanical Garden

Photo: Anthony22 at the English language Wikipedia [CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]


Jackson, K. T. (2011). The encyclopedia of New York City (Second ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p.147

Eisenstadt, P. E. (2005). The encyclopedia of New York State/ editor in chief, Peter Eisenstadt ; managing editor, Laura-Eve Moss ; foreword by Carole F. Huxley. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. p.199 – 201.

“Mission and Overview ” New York Botanical Garden.” New York Botanical Garden. Accessed January 20, 2020. https://www.nybg.org/about/mission-and-overview/.


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