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The Importance of Botanical Gardens

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3267 words Published: 13th Aug 2021

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The topic for this essay is the role of botanical gardens in plant conservation. The essay will be divided into four main parts. The first part discuss about the botanical garden. This part will include the introduction, history and development, network and function of botanical garden. Second part will explain the importance of plant conservation and the global strategy for plant conservation. The third part is the role of botanical garden in plant conservation. The fourth part will be the example of botanical garden in Malaysia and its roles in plant conservation. The last part will be the conclusion of the essay.

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Botanical gardens or botanic gardens are generally well-tended parks displaying a wide range of plants labelled with their botanical names. They may contain specialist plant collections such as cacti and succulent plants, herb gardens, plants from particular parts of the world, and so on; there may be greenhouses, again with special collections such as tropical plants, alpine plants or other exotic plants.

Botanical gardens are often run by universities or other scientific research organizations and often have associated herbaria and research programmes in plant taxonomy or some other aspect of botanical science. In principle their role is to maintain documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education, although this will depend on the resources available and the special interests pursued at each particular garden.

History and Development

The origin of modern botanical gardens can be traced to European medieval medicinal gardens known as physic gardens, the first of these being founded during the Italian Renaissance in the 16th century. This early concern with medicinal plants changed in the 17th century to an interest in the new plant imports from explorations outside Europe as botany gradually established its independence from medicine. In the 18th century systems of nomenclature and classification were devised by botanists working in the herbaria and universities associated with the gardens, these systems often being displayed in the gardens as educational “order beds”. With the rapid rise of European imperialism in the late 18th century botanic gardens were established in the tropics and economic botany became a focus with the hub at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London.

Over the years botanical gardens, as cultural and scientific organisations, have responded to the interests of botany and horticulture. Nowadays most botanical gardens display a mix of the themes mentioned and more: having a strong connection with the general public there is the opportunity to provide visitors with information relating to the environmental issues being faced at the start of the 21st century, especially those relating to plant conservation and sustainability.


Worldwide there are now about 1800 botanical gardens and arboreta in about 150 countries (mostly in temperate regions) of which about 400 are in Europe, 200 in North America, 150 in Russia and an increasing number in East Asia. These gardens attract about 150 million visitors a year so it is hardly surprising that many people gained their first exciting introduction to the wonders of the plant world in a botanical garden.

Historically, botanical gardens exchanged plants through the publication of seed lists. This was a means of transferring both plants and information between botanical gardens. This system continues today although the possibility of genetic piracy and the transmission of invasive species have received greater attention in recent times.

The International Association of Botanic Gardens was formed in 1954 as a worldwide organisation affiliated to the International Union of Biological Sciences. More recently coordination has also been provided by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) which has the mission “To mobilise botanic gardens and engage partners in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet”. BGCI has over 700 members- mostly botanic gardens- in 118 countries and strongly supports the Global strategy for plant conservation by producing a range resources and publications, and by organizing international conferences and conservation programs.

Communication also happens regionally. In the United States there is the American Public Gardens Association and in Australasia there is the Botanic Gardens of Australia and New Zealand (BGANZ).

Role and Function

Botanic gardens have had a changing role throughout history, beginning often as medicinal gardens for the study and cultivation of plants with healing properties and going through many phases including of course as pleasure gardens. But the fact that their collections are more or less scientific means they are continually adapting and serving the needs of their societies in evolving ways as new challenges face those societies.

In current times, they are becoming key players in both the conservation of plants and in the education of the people who come to see them. They are also starting to play a role in the mitigation of the effects of climate change, and could be absolutely vital to the survival of the planet as they are perfectly placed to help move species around and help ecosystems to adapt to new climates in different regions.

Plant conservation


Plants are universally recognized as a vital part of the world’s biological diversity and an essential resource for the planet. In addition to the small number of crop plants used for basic food and fibres, many thousands of wild plants have great economic and cultural importance and potential, providing food, medicine, fuel, clothing and shelter for vast numbers of people throughout the world. Plants also play a key role in maintaining the planet’s basic environmental balance and ecosystem stability, and provide an important component to the habitats for the world’s animal life.

At present we do not have a complete inventory of the plants of the world, but it is estimated that the total number may be in the order of 300,000 species. Many of these species are in danger of extinction, threatened by habitat transformation, over-exploitation, alien invasive species, pollution and climate change. The disappearance of such vital and large amounts of biodiversity poses one of the greatest challenges for the world community: to halt the destruction of the plant diversity that is so essential to meet the present and future needs of humankind.

Plant conservation, long the poor relation of the conservation world, has started to come into its own since the rise of conservation biology as a recognized discipline in the 1980s. Plant conservation, and the heritage value of exceptional historic landscapes, was treated with a growing sense of urgency. Specialist gardens were sometimes given a separate or adjoining site, to display native and indigenous plants.

Off-site plant conservation

Off-site conservation is the conservation of plants away from their areas of natural occurrence. The term ex situ is frequently used to describe the off-site conservation. Off-site conservation not only include growing the plants in botanic gardens, the concept extends as well to field gene banks, clonal collections, and germ plasma banks where propagating tissues and seeds are preserved for growing in the future. Off-site conservation can involve a range of plant parts-the whole plant, seed, other tissues, or genetic material in culture.

Whole, living plants have particular value for conservation and will continue to be a major concern of off-site conservation. But conserving whole plants is not simple. To capture the range of genetic variation, such collections require large number of plants; these are expensive to establish and maintain. If the plants are annuals, they will require seasonal replication. Outside their natural habitat some plants may require hand pollination and special treatment of fruit and seeds to ensure germination. It is fortunate that improving technology is making storage as seeds, seedlings, rhizomes, tissues in culture, and even DNA an option for many plants.

Global Strategy for Plant Conservation

The entry point for the strategy is plant conservation; other aspects such as sustainable use, benefit-sharing and capacity building are also included. The Strategy provides an innovative framework for actions at global, regional, national and local levels. The strategy is supported by a wide range of organizations and institutions – governments, intergovernmental organizations, conservation and research organizations (such as protected-area management boards, botanic gardens, and gene banks), universities, research institutes, nongovernmental organizations and their networks, and the private sector. The most innovative element of the Strategy is the inclusion of 16 outcome-orientated targets, aimed at achieving a series of measurable goals by 2010.


  • The ultimate and long-term objective of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation is to halt the current and continuing loss of plant diversity.
  • The Strategy will provide framework to facilitate harmony between existing initiatives aimed at plant conservation, to identify gaps where new initiatives are required, and to promote mobilization of the necessary resources.
  • The Strategy will be a tool to enhance the ecosystem approach to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and focus on the vital role of plants in the structure and functioning of ecological system and assure provision of the goods and services such systems provide.

Role of Botanical Gardens in Plant Conservation

Botanic gardens have collectively accumulated centuries of resources and expertise that now means they play a key role in plant conservation. Many of these activities contribute to ex situHYPERLINK “http://www.bgci.org/ourwork/ex_situ/” conservation, but botanic gardens also play an important role in in situHYPERLINK “http://www.bgci.org/ourwork/Ecosystems/” conservation

Horticulture and cultivation skills allow us to grow plants that might be lost in nature, which means their plants’ diversity can be conserved in the gardens, but also allows us to consider restoration and rehabilitation of degraded habitats.

Living collections of plants collect species under various groupings, to maintain a living store of genetic diversity that can support many activities in conservation and research.

Seed banks and collections of living plants allow species to be safeguarded. Plants must be carefully collected stored to ensure maximum genetic diversity is retained, and much research is required to determine the best way of storing each species. This is the conservation of plant diversity in situ, and botanic gardens are key to this strategy’s capacity and success..

Research and development into plant taxonomy and genetics, phytochemistry, useful properties, informing selection of plants that can withstand degraded and changing environments (especially important in face of the threats posed by climate change).

Education is a strength of botanic gardens that allows them to communicate the importance of conserving plants, reaching out to diverse audiences, and also to communicate how this may be achieved.

Linking plants with the well-being of people, and also helping conserve indigenous and local knowledge, to encourage the sustainable use of plant resources for the benefit of all, as part of sustainable development.

The conservation of plant diversity is critical for sustainable development and botanic gardens are playing a key role as centres of conservation action. Gardens maintain a wide range of species as living plants, in seed banks and tissue culture; according to estimation of BGCI, there are probably over 80,000 species in cultivation in botanic gardens of the current estimate of 270,000 known plant species in the world. Botanic gardens contain collections of plants for education, scientific purposes and display; they can be:

  • Taxonomically-based – collections of a particular family, genus or group of cultivars;
  • Collections of native plants;
  • Plants which share a common geographical or ecological origin such as Mediterranean, desert or alpine;
  • Wild relatives or cultivars of useful species such as medicinal, aromatic or textile plants;
  • Shared habit or life form such as an orchard, arboretum or succulent collection.

Botanic gardens also have important conservation collections particularly of rare and threatened plants. According to the IUCN Red List of threatened plants 34,000 taxa are considered globally threatened with extinction. Currently, over 10,000 threatened species, approximately a third, are in botanic garden cultivation. These plants contribute to species recovery programmes and provide long-term backup collections.

Botanic gardens undertake research – from plant taxonomy, ecology to breeding systems. With their expertise in horticulture, botanic gardens develop propagation and cultivation methods for plants which have never been in cultivation. All these areas are essential for species recovery programmes and reintroduction of plants into the wild, such as developing techniques to reintroduce the Dragon Trees into the wild.

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A major cause of biodiversity loss is the over-collection of wild plants for horticulture, medicine and food. Bringing plants into cultivation can take the pressure off the wild populations, and also support livelihoods by generating income and promote trade Botanic gardens also manage protected areas within and outside their garden to promote biodiversity. These ecosystems such as forests, bush land, catchment areas, and coastal areas provide essential services from the generation of water, cycling of nutrients and replenishment of soil fertility and prevention of erosion which are vital to the livelihoods of all people.

One of the major causes of species decline is invasive alien species which threaten plants, plant communities and ecosystems. Botanic gardens with their skills in identification and horticulture monitor invasive species and work locally and nationally to restore habitats that are important for diversity.

Botanic gardens work with their local communities and visitors on education and environmental conservation programmes which promote environmental awareness and sustainable living. Globally, botanic gardens receive more than 200 million visitors a year.

Further, botanic gardens are key institutions working with their governments and other organisations on key policies, national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

Botanic Garden in Malaysia – Rimba Ilmu


Rimba Ilmu is a tropical botanical garden, set up in the University of Malaya campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It is modelled after a rain forest garden concept rather than a formal flower garden. It emphasises the flora of the Malaysian and Indonesian region. Together with the living collections of over 1,600 species, the Rimba Ilmu also houses the University of Malaya herbarium (acronym KLU) and has its own Environmental Education Programme. The Rimba Ilmu is a member of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the South East Asia Botanic Gardens Network.

Rimba Ilmu means “The Forest of Knowledge” in the Malay language. The garden, established in 1974, occupies an area of 80 hectares. It is partly buffered by old rubber plantings and the living collections, mostly from Malaysia, are one of the most important biological conservatories in Malaysia. There are also plant species from other parts of tropical Asia, the Pacific islands, Australia, South America, Africa and Madagascar.

Rimba Ilmu’s mission is to generate and promote awareness and knowledge of tropical plant life and its environment, ecology and conservation through the development and management of facilities and activities appropriate to its function in a university located within Malaysia’s most developed and populated landscape.

The Herbarium (a reference library of preserved plant specimens) is Malaysia’s largest university collection containing some 63,000 accessions. In the Garden, there are several main show collections, including medicinal plants, palms, and the citrus and citroid collection. The Conservatory of Rare Plants and Orchids, opened in 2000, and the Fernery, with planting establishments made over several years and commissioned in 2003, are accessible only to special group visits and research contacts, and a new bambusetum (living collection of bamboos) was completed at the end of 2003 and generally accessible to the public. There is also a small research collection of bananas. A highlight in the development of the Rimba Ilmu is the establishment of a special arboretum (living collection of trees) beginning in 2001 as the anchor for our “Millenium Forest” project, which seeks to engage friends and concerned parties in establishing biologically diverse forest plantings in making a new forest within the city of Kuala Lumpur.

Besides having a general collection of species from a variety of plant families selected for teaching, Rimba Ilmu is also developing various special collections ranging from those of medicinal plants, wild orchids, palms, pandan, tropical fruit trees, gingers, aquatic plants, wild citrus relatives to rare and endangered plants in need of conservation.

Role in Plant Conservation

Rimba Ilmu is an important repository for many types of plants, including conservation collections of rare and endangered plants, and special collections of the useful plants (such as citruses and starch palms) and their wild relatives. In 2001, two other special collections, bamboos (sponsored by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute) and bananas (anchored by one of the university’s research groups in banana cytology), were also begun. Over 2004-5, with the assistance of DHL and involving their employees, a special collection of Malaysian forest trees has also been established. Outside of the Rimba Ilmu, it may be very difficult to observe so many different species of some groups, and the habitats of some of these plants may have already been altered or damaged. Conservation also involves public awareness, and visitors are first treated to a permanent exhibition on Rain Forests when they start to get familiar with the Garden.


Botanical gardens maintain a wide range of species as living plants, in seed banks and tissue culture. Thus, botanic gardens contain collections of plants for education, scientific purposes and display. In conclusion, the botanical garden play an important role as the ex situ conservation for plant and also in situ conservation site. The conservation of plant diversity is critical for sustainable development and botanic gardens are playing a key role as centres of conservation action.


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