My name is Heidi Meudt and I’m a Research Scientist in Botany at Te Papa, currently doing taxonomic research on New Zealand’s native forget-me-nots. As part of my job, I attend scientific conferences in New Zealand and overseas. Over the course of my botany travels during September, I’ve managed to visit five botanic gardens in three different countries!
What are some of the interesting things I saw? Why are botanic gardens important? And what does this have to do with Te Papa?
Botanic Gardens Conservation International has a searchable database of over 3,362 botanical institutions worldwide, including 22 in New Zealand. Botanic gardens worldwide have multiple and increasingly important roles, including educating the public about plants, leading efforts in plant conservation, providing plant material and other resources for scientific research, and granting public access to beautiful green spaces for all to enjoy. During September, I visited botanic gardens in Bonn, Oldenburg, Munich (Germany), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Alice Springs (Australia).
Educating the public about native plants
As we lead lives that are increasingly urban and indoors, botanic gardens that showcase native biodiversity can help increase awareness and interest about the world that is just outside our doorstep. They are like outdoor museums! In Wellington, Otari Wilton’s Bush and even Te Papa’s own Bush City are examples of such gardens in Wellington. During my recent travels, I particularly enjoyed areas where native plants were on display in recreated natural habitats at the botanic gardens at Oldenburg and Bonn (Germany) and Alice Springs (Australia).
Showcasing interesting “exotics”
The highly skilled gardeners and horticulturalists at botanic gardens are of course equally renown for showcasing “exotic” plants from all over the world, including tropical orchids and epiphytes, giant palms and cycads, and cacti and other succulents.
And at European gardens, New Zealand plants also fall into the category of “exotic” plants. Three gardens I visited in Germany had New Zealand themed gardens, including the Oldenburg Botanic Garden which even has its own hobbit hole!
Promoting scientific research and conservation
Botanic gardens are key players in plant conservation and research, partnering with universities and other institutions or taking the lead on conservation projects both ex situ (at the garden) and in situ (in the wild). Many plants on display to the public are also used for research or conservation purposes. I have used plant material from public areas of botanic gardens such as Otari in some of my own research. However some plants are reserved for research only, and while in Copenhagen and Bonn I got the chance to see some of their research collections which were not on public display.
Public access to green spaces and more!
Four of the five botanic gardens I visited were free, which meant they were very popular places with people of all ages who were using the gardens for many different reasons. In addition to providing public access to plants, botanic gardens also provide beautiful green spaces for people to enjoy, habitats for birds and other critters, and interesting architecture and art including sculptures. I saw examples of this at all the gardens I visited.
I have been fortunate to experience the joy, beauty and scientific value of five different international botanic gardens recently. I encourage you to visit botanic gardens when travelling, and also to support your local botanic garden.
Do you enjoy botanic gardens? What is your favourite botanical garden, and why?
Special thanks to Nina Rønsted, Natural History Museum of Denmark, DFG, Nees Institute at the University of Bonn, and Dirk Albach for providing funding for my trip to Europe.
For further information:
University of Bonn Botanic Gardens – website (Botanische Gärten der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn)
Oldenburg Botanical Garden (PDF, 2.29 MB) (Botanischer Garten der Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg)
Munich Botanical Garden – website (Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg)
Copenhagen Botanical Garden – website (Copenhagen Botanisk Have)
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