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The role of botanic gardens as resource and introduction centres in the face of global change


One of the consequences of global change, especially demographic and climatic, will be a demand for novel plant germplasm of all kinds suited to the new ecoclimatic conditions predicted and plant introduction will assume a new importance. As a consequence, botanic gardens will face an unprecedented opportunity to regain their role as introduction centres and become major actors in the assessment of new germplasm, both of ornamentals as well as other economically important plants. Plant introduction has remained largely unchanged over the past 400 years and is as often ad hoc, poorly organized and insufficiently collaborative, but if it is to meet the needs of today’s situation it needs to be overhauled. In particular: (1) the basis of plant introduction needs to be broadened; (2) closer cooperation with agricultural genebanks should be established; (3) agreement should be reached between botanic gardens and the agricultural sector on their respective responsibilities (4) the quality and sampling of the accessions should be more strictly controlled; (5) proper evaluation of the introductions before they are disseminated; (6) information on the accessions of introduced plants and their fate needs to be more effectively maintained and disseminated; and (7) full cognizance should be taken of policies to protect against invasive species and care should be taken to evaluate the risks that new introductions might represent. Finally, consideration should be given to preparing a set of guidelines or even a code of conduct for plant introductions by botanic gardens in association with other agencies.

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  1. The US Department of Agriculture’s plant introduction program celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1998.

  2. It is worth noting that this was not the first botanic garden in the Western Hemisphere as sometimes stated— that honour goes to a medicinal garden attributed to Dr Lawrence Bohun, Physician General of Virginia in 1610, followed by that begin by John Bartram near Philadelphia in 1728 and still in existence today and the Linnean Botanic Garden also at Philadelphia in 1730.

  3. Introduction to the Plant Introduction Scheme of the Botanical Garden of the University of British Columbia (PISBG)


  5. Folk (1966) gives a detailed discussion of the various often conflicting uses of the term acclimatization. As noted by Mazess (1975) there has been a tendency to use it in the sense of adjustments made by a species over the course of several generations. This is effectively synonymous with ‘genetic adaptation’ as a result of natural selection and contrasts with the earlier idea of acclimatization being the adjustment of an individual organism to its environment. It is this latter usage that Mazess recommends although the nature and extent of such adjustment remains a subject that needs further consideration.

  6. For details see:





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Heywood, V.H. The role of botanic gardens as resource and introduction centres in the face of global change. Biodivers Conserv 20, 221–239 (2011).

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  • Acclimatization
  • Germplasm
  • Global change
  • Underutilized species
  • Invasive species
  • Guidelines
  • Codes of conduct