Botanical Collections in Britain and Ireland


Introduction


Purpose and scope

The main purpose of the Directory is to make basic information about botanical collections growing in Britain and Ireland readily available. Diverse collections of plants are grown in sites all over Britain and Ireland but, when they are considered as a whole, there is, no doubt, considerable duplication in the collections as well as weaknesses and gaps. The Directory will make it easier for both holders and users of collections to find out what is being grown and where it is held.

The Directory will facilitate collaboration, co-ordination and communication among collection holders with a consequent benefit to those who use the collections and those who maintain them. The encouragement of such communication and exchange of information is an important part of the strategy of PlantNet and is a necessary precursor to future policies.

The Directory is intended to

  • be a reference manual for all botanical collections in Britain and Ireland
  • enable specialists and the wider community to locate plants and collections
  • provide users with access to information about collections and the institutions in which they grow
  • demonstrate and encourage co-ordination among collections
  • act as a necessary precursor for other PlantNet activities
  • improve communication between holders of collections.

What is included

Collections at almost 140 sites are included in this first version of the Directory. Not all are yet members of PlantNet, and not all the members of PlantNet have yet contributed data on their collections. In deciding what to include at this stage, the following criteria were agreed.

Collections of scientific value are included, being collections that

  • are used, or have potential use, for research, education, conservation or plant breeding
  • maintain a plant records system (except for historically important collections where records have been lost or were never kept in the first place).

In the title, the term ‘Botanical Collections’ is used as a substitute for ‘of scientific value’ as the authors believed that the former term would be more readily understood by readers and users.

An inclusive, rather than an exclusive, approach has been adopted. Plants are grown in collections for a wide range of reasons and interests – taxonomic, morphological diversity, economic, genetic, historic, geographic, ecotypic, teaching, medicinal – not only as decorative, gardenworthy plants. Though many of those included are predominantly of species, some collections of cultivars that are well managed and recorded in an organised way (making them of potential scientific value) are included, but collections of unverified cultivar names with no supporting data are not.

The National Plant Collections Directory published by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG) is already well known and it did not seem worth republishing existing information. Only some of their collections will be included in the PlantNet Directory: for instance those maintained in conjunction with other types of collection in large organisations, such as National Trust gardens or botanic gardens, but not single collections at single sites.

The Directory is not only collection-based, but is site-based also. Data are given on the climate and conditions under which the plants are cultivated. Some collections are spread over several sites. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, for instance, regards itself as having one joint collection, but spread over four sites (in Edinburgh, Dawyck, Benmore and Logan); details are given for each site and for the collections special to that site. For some sites, collections of scientific value are included in the Directory, but plants that are simply grown as part of a domestic pleasure garden at that site are not.

Compilation of the database
The database has been compiled for PlantNet by Robert Cubey at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Data gathered from responses to questionnaires sent out since 1996 were collated using BG-BASE, the plant records system used by more than 150 botanic gardens worldwide. Of more than 200 copies of the questionnaire sent out, over 100 were returned.

This Directory is the first hard-copy version of the database to be published. The database will continue to be added to, updated and amended; disk and web versions will be produced in due course, allowing detailed cross-questioning by any combination of fields, giving rise to a powerful plant-collections research tool. Further hard-copy versions will be published by PlantNet from time to time. The compilation of the database is a continuing process; the version published at any one time is inevitably likely to be incomplete, but this first version does give an indication of the strength and range of the collections growing in Britain and Ireland, viewed as a whole.

The authors acknowledge that, despite carful checking, there are bound to be some errors, and they apologise for this. In addition, there are many gaps in the entries. We hope these gaps will encourage collection holders to track down missing data. Please continue to send in updates, notes, errors and missing information to PlantNet.

Database fields
Information was collated from the answers to more than 120 questions grouped in sections. It should be noted, however, that not all 120 questions are included in the directory as this would made the directory far too long. Only these considered to be most important have been included.

BACKGROUND TO THE COLLECTION
This section includes details on ownership, policies and physical environment at the site of the collections.

PLANT COLLECTION
This section forms the core of the entries, including information on the living collections. Individual accessions were defined as follows, they:

  • represent one taxon
  • consist of one propagule type
  • have been gathered (collected) at one time under a single collection number
  • have come from one source
  • have been accessioned (or received) at one time.

Respondents were asked whether their collections focused on any particular geographical areas, for instance as a result of compiling Floras or particular research. However, it was noted that this was not intended as ‘Do you have any plants from the following areas?’, as this would have given a misleading impression of the importance of the collection.

The geographical areas listed in the questionnaire were adapted from level 2 of Biological Recording Units (Hollis, S. & Brummitt, R.K. (1992) International Working Group on Taxonomic Databases for Plant Sciences. Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Pittsburgh, USA).

Collection holders were asked which they considered to be the most important or special families and genera in their collections; these could be special for a number of reasons – historical importance, prize-winning plants, long-standing institutional support or interest, full taxonomic representation, active research or a designated national collection. Respondents were asked to list the 20 most important families and genera in their collections; the task of deciding which to include was left to their own judgement.

The section on ‘Special Collections’ includes listings of designated collections, such as those recognised by the NCCPG the Conifer Conservation Programme (CCP), university departments or the gardens themselves.

FACILITIES ON SITE and ACCESS TO THE COLLECTION
Useful data were also gathered on facilities, such as herbarium collections and libraries, and on access to the collections and opening times.

Abbreviations

CCP Conifer Conservation Programme, now ICCP
ICCP International Conifer Conservation Programme
IPGRI International Plant Genetic Resources Institute
NCCPG National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens
SSSI Site of Special Scientific Interest

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