Oliver Sacks amongst the ferns at New York Botanical Garden

An Aria to Cycads

It’s spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, so it’s time for some botanical news!

In Oaxaca Journal, Oliver Sacks joins a group of passionate fern enthusiasts to explore a region of Mexico rich in human culture and natural history. (We’re talking about wild avocados, cloud forests, chocolate, and mezcal, as a start.) The Oaxaca region also boasts a number of different cycad species, members of a plant group dating back to pre-dinosaur days. Oliver loved these tough survivors, which live all around the world and have done so for millions of years.

He often took his Awakenings patients to the New York Botanical Garden to show them these remarkable plants—so it is fitting that Tobias Picker’s new opera of Awakenings features an entire aria devoted to cycads. A first in the opera world, we are willing to bet!

So we are excited to share the news that Oliver’s friend Dennis Wm. Stevenson, Curator Emeritus at the New York Botanical Garden, recently named a new species of cycad in honor of Oliver. Dennis, knowing that Kew Gardens would have been the first place that Oliver, as a child, encountered this extraordinary group of plants, published his findings on Ceratozamia oliversacksii in the Kew Bulletin. Thank you, Dennis—Oliver would have been thrilled!

Illustration of the cycad named after Oliver Sacks

There’s also a fern named after Oliver Sacks – Ceradenia sacksii, by botanist Michael Sundue. Oliver was part of the expedition, organized by the New York Chapter of the American Fern Society and The New York Botanical Garden, which made the earliest known collection of this species. He describes the experience in Oaxaca Journal.

We hope, as the weather warms, you’re finding joy in the sprouting and blooming around you.


The Oliver Sacks Foundation

P.S. Read the New York Times’ interview with Tobias Picker and Aryeh Lev Stollman ahead of the world premiere of their Awakenings opera in St Louis on June 5, 2022.

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Get a 10% discount to any performance of Awakenings using the promo code SACKS2022

📷 Photo of Oliver Sacks at New York Botanical Garden by Roberto Calasso / 🎨 Illustrations by Abi Inman