Botanical gardens or botanic gardens[nb 1] are generally well-tended parks displaying a wide range of plants labelled with their botanical names. They may contain specialist plant collections such as cacti and succulent plants, herb gardens, plants from particular parts of the world, and so on; there may be greenhouses, again with special collections such as tropical plants, alpine plants or other exotic plants. Visitor services often include garden tours, educational displays, art exhibitions, book rooms, open-air theatrical and musical performances and other entertainment.
Botanical gardens are often run by universities or other scientific research organizations and often have associated herbaria and research programmes in plant taxonomy or some other aspect of botanical science. In principle their role is to maintain documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education, although this will depend on the resources available and the special interests pursued at each particular garden.
The origin of modern botanical gardens can be traced to European medieval medicinal gardens known as physic gardens, the first of these being founded during the Italian Renaissance in the 16th century. This early concern with medicinal plants changed in the 17th century to an interest in the new plant imports from explorations outside Europe as botany gradually established its independence from medicine. In the 18th century systems of nomenclature and classification were devised by botanists working in the herbaria and universities associated with the gardens, these systems often being displayed in the gardens as educational "order beds". With the rapid rise of European imperialism in the late 18th century botanic gardens were established in the tropics and economic botany became a focus with the hub at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London.
Over the years botanical gardens, as cultural and scientific organisations, have responded to the interests of botany and horticulture. Nowadays most botanical gardens display a mix of the themes mentioned and more: having a strong connection with the general public there is the opportunity to provide visitors with information relating to the environmental issues being faced at the start of the 21st century, especially those relating to plant conservation and sustainability.
The role of major botanical gardens worldwide has been considered so broadly similar as to fall within textbook definitions. The following definition was produced by staff of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium of Cornell University in 1976. It covers in some detail the many functions and activities generally associated with botanical gardens.
"A botanical garden is a controlled and staffed institution for the maintenance of a living collection of plants under scientific management for purposes of education and research, together with such libraries, herbaria, laboratories, and museums as are essential to its particular undertakings. Each botanical garden naturally develops its own special fields of interests depending on its personnel, location, extent, available funds, and the terms of its charter. It may include greenhouses, test grounds, an herbarium, an arboretum, and other departments. It maintains a scientific as well as a plant-growing staff, and publication is one of its major modes of expression."
This broad outline is then expanded:
"The botanic garden maybe an independent institution, a governmental operation, or affiliated to a college or university. If a department of an educational institution, it may be related to a teaching program. In any case, it exists for scientific ends and is not to be restricted or diverted by other demands. It is not merely a landscaped or ornamental garden, although it may be artistic, nor is it an experiment station or yet a park with labels on the plants. The essential element is the intention of the enterprise, which is the acquisition and dissemination of botanical knowledge."
The "New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening" (1999) points out that among the various kinds of organisations now known as botanical gardens there are many public gardens with little scientific activity, and it cites a more abbreviated definition that was published by the World Wildlife Fund and IUCN when launching the ’’Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy’’ in 1989: "A botanic garden is a garden containing scientifically ordered and maintained collections of plants, usually documented and labelled, and open to the public for the purposes of recreation, education and research." This has been further reduced by Botanic Gardens Conservation International to the following definition which "encompasses the spirit of a true botanic garden": "A botanic garden is an institution holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education."
Worldwide there are now about 1800 botanical gardens and arboreta in about 150 countries (mostly in temperate regions) of which about 400 are in Europe, 200 in North America and 150 in Russia.[www 1] These attract about 150 million visitors a year so it is hardly surprising that many people gained their first exciting introduction to the wonders of the plant world in a botanical garden.
Historically, botanical gardens exchanged plants through the publication of seed lists (these were called Latin: Index Semina in the 18th century). This was a means of transferring both plants and information between botanical gardens. This system continues today although the possibility of genetic piracy and the transmission of invasive species has received greater attention in recent times.
The International Association of Botanic Gardens[www 2] was formed in 1954 as a worldwide organisation affiliated to the International Union of Biological Sciences. More recently coordination has also been provided by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI)[www 3] which has the mission "To mobilise botanic gardens and engage partners in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet". BGCI has over 700 members – mostly botanic gardens – in 118 countries and strongly supports the Global strategy for plant conservation[www 4] by producing a range resources and publications, and by organizing international conferences and conservation programs.
Communication also happens regionally. In the United States there is the American Public Gardens Association[www 5] (formerly the American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta) and in Australasia there is the Botanic Gardens of Australia and New Zealand (BGANZ).[www 6]
The history of botanical gardens is closely linked to the history of botany itself. When the botanical gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries changed from medicinal gardens to sites displaying beautiful, strange and new (sometimes economically important) plants from distant lands, and further in the 18th century to sites demonstrating the latest plant classification systems devised by botanists working in the associated herbaria, and then to the modern mix of specialist and eclectic gardens serving many interests of horticulture and botany.
The idea of "scientific" gardens used specifically for the study of plants is probably ancient.
Substantial gardens set aside for economic use or display, containing at least some plants gained by special collection or military campaigns abroad, are known from ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Mexico. In about 2800 BCE Chinese Emperor Shen Nung sent collectors to distant regions searching for plants with economic or medicinal value. Early medieval Islamic Spain had gardens, like that of Ibn Wafid's at Toledo in the 11th century, which have been called "botanical". It has also been suggested that the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica influenced the history of the botanical garden as gardens in Tenochtitlan, Nezahualcoyotl, Chalco and elsewhere greatly impressed the invaders as the Aztecs knew many more medicinal plants than did the classical world of Europe.</ref>
Botanical gardens, in the modern sense, developed from physic gardens, whose main purpose was to grow herbs for medicinal use. Such gardens have a long history. In Europe, for example, Aristotle (384 BCE – 322 BCE) is said to have had a physic garden in the Lyceum at Athens, which was used for educational purposes and for the study of botany and this was inherited, or possibly set up, by his pupil Theophrastus, the "Father of Botany".
Though these ancient gardens shared some of the characteristics of botanical gardens, the forerunners of modern botanical gardens are generally regarded as being the medieval monastic physic gardens that originated after the decline of the Roman Empire at the time of Emperor Charlemagne (742 – 789 CE). These contained a hortus, a garden used mostly for vegetables, and another section set aside for specially-labelled medicinal plants and this was called the herbularis or hortus medicus — more generally known as a physic garden. These gardens were probably given impetus when Charlemagne issued a capitulary of 73 herbs to be used in the physic gardens of his dominions. Many of these were found in British gardens even though they only occurred naturally in continental Europe, demonstrating earlier plant introduction. Certainly the founding of many early botanic gardens was instigated by members of the medical profession.
If a botanical garden is defined by its scientific or academic connection then the first true botanical gardens were established with the revival of learning that occurred in the European Renaissance.
The botanical gardens of southern Europe were associated with university faculties of medicine and were founded in Northern Italy at Orto botanico di Pisa (1544), Orto botanico di Padova (1545), Orto Botanico di Firenze (1545) and Orto Botanico dell'Università di Bologna (1568).[nb 2] Here the physicians (referred to in English as apothecaries) delivered lectures on the Mediterranean "simples" or "officinals" that were being cultivated in the grounds. Student education was no doubt stimulated by the relatively recent advent of printing and the publication of the first herbals. All of these botanical gardens still exist, mostly in their original locations.
The tradition of these Italian gardens passed into northern Europe where similar gardens were established in the Netherlands (Hortus Botanicus Leiden, 1587; Hortus Botanicus (Amsterdam), 1679), Germany (Alter Botanischer Garten Tübingen, 1535; Leipzig Botanical Garden, 1580; Botanischer Garten Heidelberg, 1597; Herrenhäuser Gärten, Hanover, 1666; Botanical Garden in Berlin, 1672), Switzerland (Botanical Garden Zürich, 1560; Basel, 1589); England (University of Oxford Botanic Garden, 1621; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 1670; Chelsea Physic Garden, 1673), and in France (Jardin des plantes de Montpellier, 1593; Paris, 1597; Jardin des Plantes, Paris, 1635), Denmark (University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden, 1600); Sweden (Uppsala University, 1655), and also in Spain (Botanical Garden of Valencia(Spanish), 1567).
At the time of the foundation of these first gardens botany had not become a distinct discipline but was simply a descriptive adjunct to medicine. However, it was in the 17th century that botanical gardens began their contribution to a deeper scientific curiosity about plants.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the first plants were being imported to these major Western European gardens from Eastern Europe and nearby Asia (which provided many bulbs) and these found a place in the new gardens where they could be conveniently studied by the plant experts of the day. For example, Asian introductions were described by Carolus Clusius (1526 – 1609) who was director, in turn, of the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna and Hortus Botanicus Leiden. Many plants were being collected from the Near East, especially bulbous plants from Turkey. Clusius laid the foundations of Dutch tulip breeding and the bulb industry, and he helped create one of the earliest formal botanical gardens of Europe at Leyden where his detailed planting lists have made it possible to recreate this garden near its original site. "The hortus medicus of Leyden in 1601 was a perfect square divided into quarters for the four continents, but by 1720 however it was a rambling system of beds, struggling to contain the novelties rushing in" and it became better known as the hortus academicus. His Exoticorum libri decem (1605) is an important survey of exotic plants and animals that is still consulted today. The inclusion of new plant introductions in botanic gardens meant that their scientific role was now widening as botany gradually asserted its independence from medicine.
In the mid to late 17th century the Paris Jardin des Plantes was a centre of interest with the greatest number of new introductions to attract the public. In England the Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 as the "Garden of the Society of Apothecaries". The Chelsea garden had heated greenhouses and in 1723 appointed Philip Miller (1722 – 1770) as Head Gardener. He had a wide influence on both botany and horticulture as plants poured into it from around the world. The garden's golden age came in the 18th century, when it became the world's most richly stocked botanical garden. Its seed-exchange programme was established in 1682 and still continues.
With the increase in maritime trade ever more plants were being brought back to Europe as trophies from distant lands and these were triumphantly displayed in the private estates of the wealthy, in commercial nurseries and in the public botanical gardens. Heated conservatories called "orangeries", such as the one at Kew, became a feature of many botanical gardens. industrial expansion in Europe and North America resulted in new building skills, so plants sensitive to cold were kept over winter in progressively elaborate and expensive heated conservatories and glasshouses.[nb 3]
The 18th century was marked by introductions from the Cape of South Africa – including ericas, geraniums, pelargoniums, succulents and proteaceous plants – while the Dutch trade with the Dutch East Indies resulted in a golden era for the Leiden and Amsterdam botanical gardens and a boom in the construction of conservatories.
The Royal Gardens at Kew were founded in 1760, initially as part of the Royal Garden set aside as a physic garden. William Aiton (1741 – 1793), the first Curator, was taught by garden chronicler Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden whose son Charles became first Curator of the original Cambridge Botanic Garden (1762). In 1759 the "Physick Garden" was planted and by 1767 it was claimed that "the Exotick Garden is by far the richest in Europe". Gardens such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1759) and Oratava Acclimatization Garden(Spanish), Tenerife (1788) and the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid (1755) were set up to cultivate new species returned from expeditions to the tropics; they also helped found new tropical botanical gardens. From the 1770s, following the example of the French and Spanish, amateur collectors were supplemented by official horticultural and botanical plant hunters. This was the great era of European, and especially British, imperialism which was "the means by which ideas, knowledge, styles of economy, politics and goods were given international reach" and justified as the spreading of "civilization" through "development" and "improvement".
At this time England was importing many woody plants from North America, and the popularity of horticulture had increased enormously encouraged by the horticultural and botanical collecting expeditions overseas fostered by the directorship of Sir William Hooker and his keen interest in economic botany. At the end of the 18th century Kew, under the directorship of Sir Joseph Banks, enjoyed a golden age of plant hunting, sending out collectors to the Southern African Cape, Australia, Chile, China, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Brazil and elsewhere, and acting as "the great botanical exchange house of the British empire". From its earliest days to the present Kew has in many ways exemplified botanic garden ideals and is respected worldwide for the published work of its scientists, the education of horticultural students, its public programs, and the scientific underpinning of its horticulture.
The large number of plants needing description were often listed in garden catalogues and it was at this time that Carl Linnaeus established the system of binomial nomenclature which greatly facilitated the listing process. Names of plants were authenticated by dried plant specimens mounted on card (a hortus siccus or garden of dried plants) that were stored in buildings called herbaria, these taxonomic research institutions being frequently associated with the botanical gardens, many of which by then had "order beds" to display the classification systems being developed by botanists in the gardens' museums and herbaria. Botanical gardens had now become scientific collections as botanists published their descriptions of the new exotic plants, and these were also recorded for posterity in detail by superb botanical illustrations. In this century botanical gardens effectively dropped their medicinal function in favour of scientific and aesthetic priorities and the term "botanic garden" came to be more closely associated with the herbarium, library (and later laboratories) housed there than with the living collections – on which little research was undertaken.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries were marked by the establishment of tropical botanical gardens as a tool of colonial expansion (for trade and commerce and, secondarily, science) mainly by the British and Dutch, in India, South-east Asia and the Caribbean. This was also the time of Sir Joseph Banks's botanical collections during Captain James Cook's circumnavigations of the planet and his explorations of Oceania which formed the last phase of plant introduction on a grand scale.
There are currently about 230 tropical botanical gardens with a concentration in southern and south-eastern Asia. The first botanical garden founded in the tropics was the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden in Mauritius, established in 1735 to provide food for ships using the port, but later trialling and distributing many plants of economic importance. This was followed by the West Indies (Botanic Gardens St. Vincent, 1764) and in 1786 by the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India founded during a period of prosperity when the city was a trading centre for the Dutch East India Company. Other gardens were constructed in Brazil (Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro, 1808), Sri Lanka (Botanical Garden of Peradeniya, 1821 and on a site dating back to 1371), Indonesia (Bogor Botanical Gardens, Kebun Raya Cibodas, 1817), and Singapore (Singapore Botanical Gardens, 1822). These had a profound effect on the economy of the countries, especially in relation to the foods and medicines introduced. The importation of rubber trees to the Singapore Botanic Garden initiated the important rubber industry of the Malay Peninsula. At this time also teak and tea were introduced to India and breadfruit, pepper and starfruit to the Caribbean.[www 7]
Included in the charter of these gardens was the investigation of the local flora for its economic potential to both the colonists and the local people. Many crop plants were introduced by or through these gardens – often in association with European botanical gardens such as Kew or Amsterdam – and included cloves, tea, coffee, breadfruit, cinchona, sugar, cotton, palm oil and Theobroma cacao (for chocolate). It was during these times that the rubber plant was introduced to Singapore. Especially in the tropics, the larger gardens were frequently associated with a herbarium and museum of economy. The Botanical Garden of Peradeniya had considerable influence on the development of agriculture in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where the Para rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) was introduced from Kew, which had itself imported the plant from South America. Other examples include cotton from the Chelsea Physic Garden to the Province of Georgia in 1732 and tea into India by Calcutta Botanic Garden. The transfer of germplasm between the temperate and tropical botanical gardens was undoubtedly responsible for the range of agricultural crops currently used in several regions of the tropics.
The first botanical gardens in Australia were founded in the early 19th century (the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 1816; Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, 1818; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, 1845; Adelaide Botanic Gardens, 1854; and Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, 1855) where the tradition of acclimatization and economic exploitation were soon put into practice. To this list can be added major botanical gardens in New Zealand (Dunedin Botanic Gardens, 1863; Christchurch Botanic Gardens, 1863; Wellington Botanic Gardens, 1868) and South Africa (Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, 1913 (site dating to 1848)).
The first botanical garden in the United States, Bartram's Garden, was founded in 1730 near Philadelphia and in the same year the Linnaean Botanic Garden at Philadelphia itself. In 1859 the Missouri Botanical Garden was founded at St Louis and is now one of the world’s leading gardens specializing in tropical plants. This was one of several popular American gardens including Longwood Gardens (1798), Arnold Arboretum (1872), New York Botanical Garden (1891), Huntington Botanical Gardens (1906), Brooklyn Botanic Garden (1910), and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (1938).
Russia has more botanical gardens than any other country, with a major garden in every republic, each with many satellite gardens. Better-known gardens are Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Yalta, 1812; Kiev Botanical Gardens, 1939; and Moscow Botanical Garden of Academy of Sciences, 1945.
A large number of civic or municipal botanical gardens were founded in the 19th and 20th centuries. These did not develop scientific facilities or programmes but the horticultural aspects were strong and the plants often labelled. They were botanical gardens in the sense of building up collections of plants and exchanging seeds with other gardens around the world, although their collection policies were determined by those in day-to-day charge of them. They tended to become little more than beautifully-maintained parks and were, indeed, often under general parks administrations.
The second half of the twentieth century saw increasingly sophisticated educational, visitor service and interpretation services. Botanical gardens started to cater for many interests and their displays reflected this, often including botanical exhibits on themes of evolution, ecology or taxonomy horticultural displays of attractive flowerbeds and herbaceous borders, plants from different parts of the world, special collections of plant groups like bamboos or roses, specialist glasshouse collections such as tropical plants, alpine plants, cacti and orchids, as well as the traditional herb gardens and medicinal plants. Specialized gardens like the Palmengarten in Frankfurt (1869), one of the world's leading orchid and succulent plant collections, have been very popular. There was a renewed interest in gardens of indigenous plants and areas dedicated to natural vegetation.
With decreasing financial support from governments, there was an increase in revenue-raising public entertainment including music, art exhibitions, special botanical exhibitions, theatre and film, this being supplemented by the advent of "Friends" organizations and the use of volunteer guides.
Plant conservation, and the heritage value of exceptional historic landscapes, were treaded with a A growing sense of urgency. Specialist gardens were sometimes given a separate or adjoining site, to display native and indigenous plants.
In the 1970s gardens became focused on the plant conservation. The Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat was established by the IUCN, and the World Conservation Union in 1987 with the aim of coordinating the plant conservation efforts of botanical gardens around the world. It maintains a database of rare and endangered species in botanical gardens' living collections. Many gardens hold ex situ conservation collections that preserve genetic variation. These may be held as: seeds dried and stored at low temperature, or in tissue culture (such as the Kew Millennium Seedbank); as living plants, including those that are of special horticultural, historical or scientific interest (such as those held by the NCCPG in the United Kingdom); or by managing and preserving areas of natural vegetation. Collections are often held and cultivated with the intention of reintroduction to their original habitat. The Center for Plant Conservation at St Louis, Missouri coordinates the conservation of native North American species.[www 8]
Many of the functions of botanical gardens have already been dealt with in the sections above, which emphasize the scientific underpinning of botanical gardens with their focus on research, education and conservation. However, as multifaceted organizations, all sites have their own special interests. In a remarkable paper on the role of botanical gardens Ferdinand Mueller (1825 – 1896), the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (1852 – 1873), stated that "in all cases the objects [of a botanical garden] must be mainly scientific and predominantly instructive". He then detailed many of the objectives that were being pursued by the world's botanical gardens in the middle of the 19th century when European gardens were at their height. Many of these are listed here to give a sense of the scope of botanical gardens' activities at that time, and the ways in which they differed from parks or what he called "public pleasure gardens":
Botanical gardens must find a compromise between the need for peace and seclusion on the one hand, and on the other the demand for information and visitor services such as restaurants, information centres and sales areas that bring with them rubbish, noise and hyperactivity. Attractive landscaping and planting design sometimes competes with scientific interests — with science now often taking second place. Some gardens are now heritage landscapes that are subject to constant demand for new exhibits.
Many gardens now have have plant shops selling flowers, herbs, and vegetable seedlings suitable for transplanting and many, like the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research and the Chicago Botanic Garden, have plant breeding programs and introduce new plants to the horticultural trade.
Botanical gardens are still being built, such as the first botanical garden in Oman, which will be one of the largest gardens in the world. Once it is completed and will house the first large scale cloud forest in a huge glasshouse.[www 7] There has been a remarkable development of botanical gardens in China over recent years including the Hainan Botanical Garden of Tropical Economic Plants[www 9] South China Botanical Garden at Guangzhou, the Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden of Tropical Plants and the Xiamen Botanic Garden but in developed countries many have closed for lack of financial support, this being especially true of botanical gardens attached to universities.
Botanical gardens have always responded to the interests and values of the day. If a single function were to be chosen from the early literature on botanical gardens it would be their scientific endeavour and, flowing from this, their instructional value. In their formative years botanical gardens were gardens for physicians and botanists but then they progressively became more associated with ornamental horticulture and the needs of the general public. It is by the publications coming out of herbaria and similar facilities that the scientific reputation of a botanical garden is now judged, not by its living collections. The interest in economic plants now has less relevance, and the concern with plant classification systems has all but disappeared, while a fascination with the curious, beautiful and new seems unlikely to diminish.
In recent times the focus has been on creating awareness on danger to ecosystems from human overpopulation and its consequent need for biological and physical resources. Botanical gardens provide an excellent medium for much-needed communication between the world of science and the world at large. Education programs can help the public develop greater environmental awareness by understanding the meaning and importance of ideas like conservation and sustainability.
Seiwa-en Japanese Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, USA
Inside Kew Gardens Palm House, England
The Botanical Garden of Curitiba, Southern Brazil
The New Brunswick Botanical Garden, Canada
A botanical garden of Kitchener's Island, Aswan, Egypt
Inside the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra, Portugal
The Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida, USA
Palmhouse, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland
Lake in Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden, near Calcutta, India
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, South Africa
A botanical garden is generally a well maintained park which contains many different kinds of plants labeled with their botanical names. They can contain collections of special types of plants, such as cacti, herb gardens, plants of certain parts of the world. Some of these collections need to be kept in greenhouses, such as tropical plants, alpine plants or other exotic plants.
In botanic gardens, seeds or cuttings are collected from species in the wild and then used to build up a population of plants from which, one day, some plants may be reintroduced to their natural habitats. Tissue culture can often help to produce many plants from just a few specimens.