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Botanical gardens uniquely positioned to meet need for food and agricultural education

5 June 2015

Washington, DC – Consistent with their historical focus on the functional utility of plants,

botanical gardens can contribute to global food and ecosystem security by expanding their living

collections, research, and education programs to emphasize agriculture and its impacts, reports a

paper published this week in Nature Plants.


Continued world population growth will require robust and sustainable agricultural systems. Efforts

to educate society about agriculture, to ensure well-informed decision making, must meet people in

the urban locations where most now live. The paper shows that botanical gardens are uniquely

positioned to meet this need.


“There are thousands of botanical gardens around the world, most in urban environments, devoted

to plant knowledge, research and public education. Botanical gardens are well placed to play a

critical role in advancing knowledge and understanding about food plants and the relationship

between plants, agriculture, and the environment,” said Ari Novy, Executive Director of the U.S.

Botanic Garden.


“With a third of the world’s land surface cultivated or grazed, a rapidly rising human population and

expectations for increased consumption, and widespread hunger, it is imperative that those botanical

gardens in a position to do so use their special standing to help educate their visitors about

agriculture and contribute to its improvement in the future,” said Peter H. Raven, President

Emeritus of Missouri Botanical Garden.


“Botanical gardens are impressive centers of information and plant diversity, distributions, and uses.

In addition to maintaining living collections of more than 1/3 of the known plant species, many

gardens support extensive research programs focused on cataloging plant diversity and

distributions, documenting plant uses in different cultures, and conserving plant species in nature

and in seed banks. These invaluable resources can be leveraged to develop new crops and improve

existing ones for future climates, and to better understand the impacts of agricultural systems on 

natural plant biodiversity,” said Allison Miller, Associate Professor at Saint Louis University and

Research Associate at the Missouri Botanical Garden.


Throughout history, many botanical gardens were founded with plants based on utility, rather than

aesthetic value, but in the past century, focus has shifted more to horticultural displays and

conservation. Given that botanical gardens primary focus is plants, and that the majority of

botanical gardens are in close proximity to highly populated urban centers, they are well positioned

to serve as critical conduits for information about food plants and agriculture, adding this important

element to their already well developed programs in conservation and horticulture.

“Botanical gardens are uniquely placed to present and educate the public about all the plant sciences, not just diversity and conservation, but also all the many disparate kinds of research related to plant breeding and crop production,” Elizabeth Kellogg, member of the Donald Danforth

Plant Science Center. “The role of botanical gardens in promoting the study of plants is

increasingly important as we face challenges of feeding the growing population of the world.”

The paper’s authors represent a diversity of plant expertise from botany, agriculture and biology in

university and research centers to internationally known botanic gardens, museums, federal

agencies, and international development.


 "Expanding role of botanical gardens in the future of food." Nature Plants 1 (2015).


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