Botanic Gardens: Function and Beauty
No matter where you are in the world, it's a safe bet to assume that you've at least heard of a botanic garden. Even if you've never been to one, it's an attraction that all of us seem to recognize exist. This even goes for those of us without any interest in flowers. Whether it's being brought there as a child, using it as a date spot, or anything else, everyone seems to know that botanic gardens are a thing, but that's where the extent of everyone's knowledge tends to stop. These gardens are usually one of the most beautiful places around, due to the beautiful views of water, waterfalls, and brilliant fountains in the gardens. They are usually outdoors, open-air facilities that also include bridges over creeks and streams, with walkways that wind peacefully through the property. We've put together this guide to try and explain a bit more about botanic gardens to you. We're going to discuss the gardens' purpose, some famous examples, and just what precisely a botanic garden is.
What is a Botanic Garden?
A botanic or botanical garden is a professionally maintained garden that is dedicated to the preservation, cultivation, and research of a wide variety of plants labeled using botanic names. A botanic garden may even contain types of specialist plants not typically native to the location that the garden is situated. Rare succulents and cacti are an excellent example of this. To enable this type of growth and preservation, many botanic gardens have facilities that can be used to mimic different climates. This allows the garden botanists to grow a much larger variety of flowers than they otherwise could. Facilities like greenhouses, shade houses, and more are not uncommon sites in a botanic garden and are often full of exotic and tropical plant life.
Most botanic gardens have a visitor's center and are open to the public. To assist with raising funds and increasing the public's botany knowledge, the garden may play host to a variety of different events. These events include tours, art exhibitions, educational displays, open-air theater, musical performances, and book rooms, to name but a few. Educational institutions generally run botanic gardens. These institutions typically have some relation with botany, horticulture, and herbaria. It's also not uncommon to see scientific organizations running botanic gardens instead of an education center. These organizations and institutions typically have research programs in plant taxonomy, as well as other areas of botanic science. Access to the garden allows for these research programs to progress smoothly and offers researchers a broader array of materials. At the most fundamental level, a botanic garden's purpose is to maintain documented records and collections of living plants to assist with scientific research, display, education, and conservation. The primary purpose of a particular garden does depend on the organization running it, though.
The Origin of Botanic Gardens
Like many of the bright and natural things we have in our world today, we can trace the existence of botanic gardens back to the Renaissance in 16th century Italy. Precisely, the founding of various gardens is linked with the appointment of multiple professors of botany to the medical sections of universities. However, you can trace botanic gardens back much further on a theoretical and fundamental level than that. The content, objectives, and audience of botanic gardens these days closely resembles the grandiose gardens of antiquity, as well as the educational garden of Theophrastus in the Lyceum back in Ancient Athens.
For the most part, the European world occupied itself with botanic gardens and botany as medical science, which changed in the 17th century. As the exploration level outside of Europe increased, the public saw a growing interest in the plant imports being brought in from the new world. This is what ultimately allowed botany to establish its independence from medicine. Botany saw further developments again in the 18th century. During this time frame, the science experienced the creation of nomenclature and classification systems. These were devised by the botanists working with universities and in the herbaria associated with the established gardens at that time. This system was displayed in the botanic gardens as educational order beds.
During this century, European colonies were focusing on rapid global expansion. This led to the creation of various botanic gardens in the tropics, cementing botany's place in the developing world. Economic botany became a significant part of the discipline, with a hub being established at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London. As time went on, botanic gardens, much like the cultural and scientific organizations running them, responded and adapted to the interests of botany and horticulture. In modern times, most global botanic gardens serve a variety of functions, both scientific and economical, and maintain a positive relationship with the public as an attraction.
What is the Purpose of Botanic Gardens
We have already touched on the primary functions of a botanic garden, with a specific focus on the scientific purpose that each one serves. However, botanic gardens and the institutions running them are multifaceted organizations, and as such different sites and departments have unique goals and purposes. In the 1800s, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, Ferdinand Von Mueller, wrote a paper that discussed the objectives of botanic gardens. He states that the objects within a botanic garden must be mainly scientific and predominantly instructive. He goes on to list the objectives of various botanic gardens around the globe, highlighting the differences between them and what he described as public pleasure gardens.
• Cultivate plants for scientific research.
• Display the diversity of plant form and use.
• Display plants from particular regions.
• Display specific plant families.
• Growth of plants for specific seeds or rarity.
• For the development of lumber trees.
• To grow plants that hold economic significance.
• To maintain records of plants and the performance of growth.
• To publish catalogs of a gardens holdings periodically.
• As research facilities, utilizing gardens living collection.
• To assist studies in plant taxonomy.
• To highlight different vegetation types.
• To help with student education.
• Established as an herbarium.
• For the selection and introduction of ornamental plants and other atypical plants to commerce.
• To assist studies in phytochemistry.
• To research the effects of plants on livestock.
Famous Examples of Botanic Gardens
Over the centuries, many botanic gardens have grown in significance, with many serving the monarchy in the region where the garden is established. However, much like it was centuries ago, the most famous example of a botanic garden still must be the Kew Royal Gardens in London. These gardens were established as the center of botanic gardens during the expansion during the 18th century, so it's only natural that it would hold such a position.
Not only is it the world's most extensive collection of living plants, but it is also considered one of the most beautiful. That's not to say that it's the only botanic garden around, though. No matter where you are, you're likely going to be able to find one local to your country, if not your specific region.
Other notable examples of botanica gardens include:
• Jardim Botanico in Rio de Janerio, Brazil.
• Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City, USA.
• Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore.
• The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia.
• The Denver Botanic Gardens in Colorado, USA.
Hopefully, we've shed a little bit of light on the world of botanic gardens. Many areas and countries have a variety of gardens to visit, so treat yourself and some friends or family on a trip down to your local botanic garden.