by Marcela Martínez-Millán
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium, named for the eponymous founder of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and housed on the 4th and 5th floors of the Mann Library building since it opened in 1952, has now been completely renovated along with the rest of the Library.
The Hortorium with its collections and faculty is now poised to move into the new state of the art facilities. The Hortorium is Cornell’s center for research on plant evolution, relationships and biodiversity. Areas of research represented by Hortorium faculty are plant taxonomy-including the taxonomy of cultivated plants, molecular systematics, systematics theory, molecular genetics, medicinal plant biochemistry and paleobotany.
Studies of plant diversity have changed remarkably since the original Mann Library Building opened and demand state of the art laboratories and computer facilities for both research and teaching. The new Hortorium includes seven elegant research laboratories, a computer laboratory, and a spectacular teaching lab. The herbarium collections, the Hortorium’s own library with its many rare and beautiful volumes and the supporting offices and facilities are arranged around an atrium to take full advantage of natural light. Finally, there is a distance learning conference room with adjacent kitchen. The new Hortorium represents one of the best facilities for plant systematics in the United States.
The L. H. Bailey Hortorium was founded in 1935 by L. H. Bailey and was dedicated to research in the area of plant systematics (taxonomy), including the systematics of the cultivated flora. Bailey, an internationally renowned and decorated plant systematist, early environmentalist and pioneer evolutionist, in addition to being perhaps the world’s leading horticulturist, established the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 1904 and his vision as its first Dean led to many of Cornell’s greatest contributions to the biological sciences during the 20th Century.
by Marcela Martínez-Millán
The Hortorium was originally located at L. H. Bailey’s residence on Sage Place in Ithaca but, because of the eminence of L. H. Bailey and the relevance of the Hortorium’s work to Cornell and its research, teaching, and outreach missions, it moved to campus in 1952 and occupied the fourth floor of the then new Mann Library building. Thus, the Hortorium has been linked to Mann since the building opened. As noted above, the Hortorium includes the Cornell Herbaria—collections of reference plant specimens that contain information about geography and distributions of specific taxa. These are also, in effect, reference “libraries” in themselves of plant morphology, structure and now, even of molecular genetic data. Such aspects of collections (and the Cornell Herbaria are among the top ten in the United States) make them particularly important in today’s world.
In a world where species are going extinct before we can appreciate their possible ecological significance or value, where climate change and other forms of human intervention are catalyzing these extinctions, where medicines derived from plants may (or may not) have significant value as new diseases appear or where old ones evolve to become more threatening, the information contained in these collections is of inestimable value. In the area of agriculture the collections and the research they support have the potential for revealing aspects of wild species that may prove to be of critical importance in agriculture as climate change puts a premium on development of new or more tolerant crops and the race to find new varieties and genes.
The keys to unlocking this vast potential in both basic and applied sciences are found among the researchers who use these collections. While scientists from all of Cornell and from all over the world use these collections, they are used everyday by the Cornell scientists (including research associates, visiting scientists, graduate students and undergraduate researchers) who work directly on various aspects of plant systematics, systematics theory, evolution, ecology, medicinal plants or plant molecular genetics and even plant paleontology. These scientists will be housed in the new L. H. Bailey Hortorium.
Certainly, the new Hortorium represents one of the finest collection facilities in the Ivy League and one that will continue to be a center for innovative and relevant research well into this century.