Plant Conservation and Botanic Gardens


With a history dating back to the sixteenth century, modern botanic gardens have had an important role in plant conservation, most notably since the second half of the twentieth century. The formation of Botanic Gardens Conservation International in the 1980s and the development of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation have led to many botanic gardens across the world now having conservation as a major focus. The combination of historical collections and expertise in areas including plant taxonomy, population genetics, propagation and seed banking mean that botanic gardens are ideally placed to play a major role in ex situ and in situ plant conservation. Maintaining living collections of the rarest species in botanic gardens has been a way of saving these from extinction, albeit often in isolation from the other organisms (plants, animals and fungi) with which they would interact in nature.

Key Concepts

  • Approximately 20% of the world's plants are threatened with extinction.
  • Botanic gardens play a major role in ex situ and in situ plant conservation.
  • Botanic Gardens Conservation International is an umbrella group of more than 500 gardens in approximately 100 countries.
  • The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation has resulted in many gardens becoming more involved in conservation as a major part of their activities.
  • The rarest plants find a secure home in botanic gardens and seed banks.
  • Botanic gardens need to practise vigilance to avoid the introduction of invasive species.

Keywords: botanic gardens; seed banking; ex situ conservation; in situ conservation; restoration; integrated conservation

Figure 1. Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha, Theaceae), a U.S. species extinct in the wild but cultivated in botanic gardens. © Maarten Christenhusz.
Figure 2. Café marron (Ramosmannia rodriguesii, Rubiaceae), a ‘botanical dodo’ thought to be extinct, but saved from extinction by propagation methods. © Maarten Christenhusz.
Figure 3. Yellow fatu (Abutilon pitcairnense, Malvaceae), a ‘bounty’ saved from disappearance through local mindfulness and endeavour. © Maarten Christenhusz.
Figure 4. Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis, Araucariaceae), a commercial conservation success. © Maarten Christenhusz.


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Fay, Michael F, and Christenhusz, Maarten JM(Nov 2016) Plant Conservation and Botanic Gardens. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023748]