B. Science

Plant collections are an important resource for scientific research. Taxonomists use living plants, in conjunction with herbarium specimens and field observation, to describe species, observe development, study variation and test keys. Other scientists need accurately identified plants from collections for molecular analysis, chemotaxonomy, cytogenetics, biosystematics, chemical and pharmaceutical screening, conservation biology and many other research purposes. It is often not possible or practical to gather fresh plant material directly from the wild, and ex situ collections are then the only means of obtaining the necessary material.

To be of maximum possible use for scientific research, plant collections need to be comprehensive in terms of taxa representation, genetic diversity and geographic distribution. They also need to be well maintained, accessible, accurately identified and well documented. PlantNetwork will promote the strength of the many plant collections throughout these islands in maintaining a collective collection that will be as comprehensive as possible.

Horticultural staff and others also require the help and collaboration of scientists to identify plants, create new and appropriate designs and features, give advice on the habitats and microclimates from which plants originate, and structure the collections when specified genetic assemblages are needed. PlantNetwork will also encourage the use of plant collections as vital sources of inspiration for the botanical scientists of the future. Utilisation of collections by botanical bodies such as BSBI are a valuable way to develop identification and field skills for both staff and visitors.

Lastly we must not overlook the value and importance of horticultural research. Scientific use of collections is not just the preserve of taxonomists or molecular scientists. Experimentation in the improvement of horticultural techniques is one of the most valuable contributions to a healthy and diverse collection of plants. PlantNetwork will continue to promote and encourage the field of horticultural research through such programmes as the Target 8 project.

PlantNetwork aims to promote and increase the effective use of plant collections for research by ensuring that they collectively meet the needs and expectations of the scientific community.

PlantNetwork has:

  • established a web version of the PlantNetwork Directory of Botanical Collections in Britain and Ireland so as to make it easier for scientists to access and utilise the collective material of all gardens in Britain and Ireland.
  • held a conference on Botanical Collections as Genetic Resources at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, in May 2000
  • held a technical training day on Practical Scientific Plant Identification at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, in April 2003
  • initiated the Target 8 project with the aim of promoting knowledge and skill in cultivating endangered native plant species in Britain and Ireland
  • collaborated with Botanic Gardens Conservation International in developing an online database for collating propagation and cultivation knowledge on glasshouse plants as well as other threatened plants in collections.

To maintain these achievements, PlantNetwork will:

  • continue to promote the addition and updating of the web version of the PlantNetwork Directory of Botanical Collections in Britain and Ireland
  • increase the dialogue between collection holders, and between them and scientists, and scientific institutions, by holding at least one further appropriate workshop or conference within the next 3 years
  • promote the existence of PlantNetwork, and its member’s plant collections, to the plant science community in general and to specific groups such as the committee of Systematics 2000, the Systematics Association, Institute of Biology, research councils and institutes, the Biology Curators’ Group and other relevant plant science groups
  • liaise with other science groups, such as the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Ecsite-UK, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, Committee on the Public Understanding of Science and jointly, as appropriate, contribute to national policy
  • encourage scientific input into the PlantNetwork Newsletter
  • encourage scientists to work in close collaboration with horticulturists
  • encourage horticultural research at all gardens and encourage submission of results to Sibbaldia or similar journals.
  • promote the highest standards of record-keeping amongst all staff at all gardens, especially through the Plant Records Group
  • promote the value of verification and thus accurate labelling and recording of all plant collections
  • encourage scientists to make the best use of existing plant collections and to acknowledge their use
  • conduct a survey of scientific usage of collections – to produce an index of expertise, products and examples of ways in which living plants from collections have been used for scientific purposes
  • promote networking among staff working on the same plant groups in different gardens
  • establish a programme across the country for the promotion of the scientific value of collections, from the perspective of those involved in maintaining and using collections for this purpose
  • encourage botanic and similar gardens to take part in National Science Week and science festivals.

The following policies are also relevant in delivering the Science policy: