Finnish Museum of Natural History

What is a Botanic Garden?

Culture, Plants, Gardening, and Information

Although horticulture is a form of culture that has existed for thousands of years, the first botanic gardens were not established until the Renaissance era, or more precisely, in the 1540s. Nowadays, there are over 2,500 botanic gardens in nearly 150 countries.

What makes a garden botanic? The plants in a botanic garden are not there just to look pretty; they come with information, visible in the form of labels. In addition to them, a botanic garden maintains a database of information on when and from where each plant accession was acquired, as well as plenty of other data on each accession. The plants are carefully identified and the nomenclature is scientific. All plantations have been mapped, their condition is being monitored, and all changes are regularly recorded in the database.

Plant Labels in Botanic Garden

Photo: Mikko PaartolaThe base colour of the labels is white.  A red label is give to species that are threatened in their native area. The labels contain the following information:

  1. The registration code of the accession. The first part is the year when the accession was acquired, the second part is a running number within that year. Some of the older accessions have the code 00XX instead of the year, which means that the year of acquisition is unkown.
  2. Scientific family name
  3. The scientific name of the species. The first part is the name of the genus, the second part the specific epithet. The abbreviation indet. (from the Latin word indeterminatus) means that the species is as yet unidentified and, hence, cannot be named.
  4. The common name of the species in Finnish
  5. The common name of the species in Swedish
  6. The distribution area of the species.



Why Do We Need Botanic Gardens?

Research, Education, and Conservation of Plant Species

The collections of botanic gardens serve research and education purposes at universities and other institutes of education. Researchers may obtain material for studying plant evolution (nowadays usually DNA) or for breeding experiments with the pollen of a specific species. It is important for researchers to have accurate background information on the plants they study. Teachers bring their students to the collections to discover the diversity of plants and to learn to identify them, or to find information about the use of plants in building green areas. Students of horticulture complete a part of their studies in the botanic garden, tending to the diverse plant collection.

Kumpula on September (Photo: Leif Schulman/Luomus)Botanic gardens are also an excellent tool for independent study. They can inspire new ideas for home gardens or provide people with information about the flora of other countries. Botanic gardens interact with society in other ways as well. The domestic horticulture industry, for instance, obtains specialties for production, and diverse botanical expertise can aid citizens and authorities with plant-related problems.

In recent decades, the new, melancholy mission of botanic gardens has been to participate in saving the plant kingdom. As many as half of the approximately 300,000 plant species in the world are in danger of extinction in the coming decades. More and more species are finding their last safe haven in the plantations and seed bank vaults of botanic gardens.

Person in charge of the page: 
Marko Hyvärinen