The value of botanical gardens

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

the National Botanic Gardens near Carmarthen

About 500 million of us on the planet visit botanic gardens each year and it seems that they are also one of the best places to visit if you want to see a lot of the world’s plants in one place.

That may seem an obvious statement since the prime aim of gardens is to bring together any number of diverse plants but scientists now say that the world’s botanic gardens contain about a third of all known plants and help protect 40% of endangered species.

They say that with one in five of the world’s plants on the brink of extinction, botanic collections hold the key to saving rare plant life. In the first detailed study of plants grown in botanical gardens, they recorded more than 100,000 species.

Dr Paul Smith, Secretary General of the charity Botanic Gardens Conservation International says,. “So, for the first time we know what we have and, perhaps more importantly, what is missing from botanic gardens.” Tropical plants were under-represented in the inventory of species. Meanwhile, primitive plants such as mosses were fewer in number compared with exotic specimens such as orchids and lilies. “Botanic gardens maintain in their living collections and seed banks an astonishing array of plant diversity,”

Kew Gardens

He went on to say that gardens should be making much more of what they can uniquely grow that no other garden or experts have ever grown before the study, published in the journal Nature Plants, identified gaps in the botanic collections of more than 1,000 institutions. Many botanic gardens are in the Northern Hemisphere, where tropical species are harder to maintain as they need to be grown in heated glasshouses.

It seems blindingly obvious to say but tropical plants are best grown in their country of origin, but there are far fewer facilities in the Southern Hemisphere to nurture them. And only 10% of global collections are dedicated to threatened species, suggesting botanic gardens could do more to preserve some of the world’s most vulnerable plants.

Does it also suggest then that those who run our gardens concentrate on what they like rather than on those plants that should be protected?

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