While all gardens feature plants, the focus of a botanical garden is quite different from that of a display garden. The plants in a botanical garden are collected into specific categories, or living collections, determined for example by plant families, the flora of a specific region, or the conservation status of a particular genus or species. Display gardens are usually what the name implies; they contain plants chosen for their exhibit value. While some plants in a display garden may have research, conservation, or education value, such consideration may be secondary to a plant’s display quality.
The living collections in a botanical garden must be meticulously documented. Information about identification, origin, and habitat is fundamental. This and other facts or observations are recorded for long-term use; often this data is stored in computerized databases to facilitate access.
Although living collections are primarily comprised of plants growing in the gardens or in the nursery, at some botanical gardens, including NTBG, they include seeds as well. Seed banks serve as germplasm repositories, affording opportunities for future propagation.
A herbarium collection, in contrast, is made up of specimens of dried, pressed, or preserved plants. This is also a carefully documented collection. Herbarium specimens or “vouchers” are used for plant classification and as a reference for research.
Another important resource for a botanical garden is a research library. Such libraries contain books, journals, and monographs (publications that focus on a single topic, such as the description of a species). Some libraries contain botanical illustrations or photographic documentation as well.
Plants grown in gardens are growing ex situ, which means they are growing out of their natural habitats. In order to be able to grow native plants in situ (in their natural habitats), some botanical gardens may establish preserves which can serve a variety of purposes. First, and foremost, they allow endemic species to grow in their natural environment. Conservationists can then take steps to protect these plants by halting further degradation of the habitats, and restoring them so that at-risk species have a better chance to survive. Preserves also allow researchers to develop and test conservation protocols in a range of ecosystems.
Facilities, each designed for specific functions, provide the essential space for scientific research, conservation, and education. These include laboratories, propagation houses, classrooms, and other structures necessary to perform this work.
The combination of nearly 2,000 acres in five botanical gardens and three preserves with extensive living collections, a herbarium with over 56,000 specimens, and a research library containing 44,000 books, journals, and illustrations results in an unparalleled resource for protecting tropical plant diversity.