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Atlanta Botanical Garden

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United States of America - Georgia - Atlanta

Institution Code: ATLAN

International Agenda Registration: No

BGCI Member: Yes

About the Atlanta Botanical Garden

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is an urban, non-profit Garden located just three miles from the city center in midtown Atlanta. Because of its proximity to downtown, the Garden is well situated and hosts a wide variety of public and private events and exhibitions. It occupies 30-acres adjacent to Piedmont Park, the most heavily-used public park in the city. The Garden encompasses 13 acres of woodland and 15 acres of cultivated gardens. Included among these gardens are two acres for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Children’s Garden (1999), along with the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory (1989), the Fuqua Orchid Center and Center for Education and Conservation(2002), Gardenhouse, the administrative center (1985), and Mershon Hall for youth education and meeting room(2003). The Garden was organized by a grassroots group of citizens in the mid-1970s without benefit of financial bequest nor estate grounds, and is privately funded under the leadership of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Director, Mary Pat Matheson. Responsiveness to the surrounding community has always been its touchstone. In Nov, 2007 the Green Expansion Plan broke ground, to build a LEED-certified Visitor Center with green roof, a green parking facility tucked into a steep hillside, a Canopy Walk soaring 40 feet into the tree canopy, a 95,000 gallon cistern to harvest stormwater runoff including a cascade and edible plant gardens.
Smithgall Woodland Garden is a 185-acre satellite garden 60 miles northeast in Gainesville, Georgia, which opened to the public in 2014.

Main Address:
Atlanta Botanical Garden
1345 Piedmont Avenue NE
Georgia 30309-3366 United States of America

Telephone: (404) 876-5859
Fax: (404) 876-7472
Primary Email:

Staff Details

  • Director's Name: Mary Pat Matheson, President/CEO
    Curator's Name: Emily Coffey, Vice President for Science and Conservation
    Plant Records Officer's Name: Michael Wenzel, Plant Recorder
  • Total Staff:
    Horticultural Staff Number: 21
    Educational Staff Number: 4
    Research Staff Number: 6
    Administration Staff Number: 20

About the Garden

  • Institution Type: Botanic Garden
  • Status
  • Status: Private: Yes
    Status: State: No
    Status: Educational: No
    Status: Municipal: No
    Status: Satellite: Yes
    Status: Trust: No
  • Date founded: 1976
  • Physical Data
  • Natural Vegetation Area: Yes
    Natural vegetation area: Size: 5 Hectares
  • Landscaped Area: Yes
    Landscaped Area: Size: 6 Hectares
  • Total Area: 11 Hectares
    Latitude: 33.7916847
    Longitude: -84.3722534
    Annual Rainfall: 1275 mm
    Altitude: 280.00 Metres
    Total area of glasshouses: 3902 Metres
    Total area of shadehouses: 72843 Metres
  • Additional Locations
  • Satellite Garden Names: Atlanta Botanical Garden- Gainesville, Gainesville, Georgia, USA 185- acres (75 hectares).
  • Locality: Information
  • Locality: Garden Name: Atlanta Botanical Garden - Gainesville
  • Local Address: 351 Lakehill Drive Gainesville, Georgia, 30501 USA 770-287-0479
  • Locality: City: Gainesville
  • Locality: State: Georgia

Features and Facilities

  • Herbarium: No
    Arboretum: Yes
    Arboretum Size: 6
  • Micropropagation/ Tissue Culture Facilities: Yes
    Seed Bank: Yes
    Published Plant Catalogue: No
    Computer Plant Record System: Yes
  • Open to public: Yes
    Friends society: Yes
    Retail Outlet: Shop: Yes
    Retail Outlet: Plant Sales: No
    Disabled access: Yes
  • Number of Visitors: 500000
    Number of Volunteers: 500

Plant Collections

  • Accession Number: 20000
    Cultivation Taxa Num: 11000
  • Special Collections:Acer (PCN co-holder), Araceae, Arecaceae, carnivorous plants: particularly Heliamphora, Nepenthes & Sarracenia (PCN holder), Coniferales, Epimedium, Ericaceae, Ferns, Gesneriaceae, Hamamelidaceae, Hydrangeaceae, Magnoliaceae (Magnolia PCN co-holder), Orchidaceae (Stanhopea & Gongora PCN holder), Theaceae, Tricyrtis, Trillium, southeast North American flora, southeast Asian flora, Madagascar spiny forest flora: including Didieraceae & Pachypodium, old world tropical island flora: particularly New Caledonia, old world succulent flora: largely Aloeaceae, Crassulaceae & Euphorbiaceae
  • Invasive Species Monitoring: Yes
    Invasive Species Policy: No
    ABS Policy: No
    Plant Collection Policy: Yes

Conservation Programmes

  • Conservation Programme: Yes
    Medicinal Plant Programme: Yes
    Ex Situ Conservation Programme: Yes
    Reintroduction Programme: Yes

Research Programmes

  • Biotechnology: Yes
    Plant Breeding: Yes
    Conservation - Biology: Yes
    Conservation - Genetics: Yes
    Data Management Systems and Information Technology: No
    Ecology: Yes
    Ecosystem Conservation: Yes
    Education: Yes
    Ethnobotany: Yes
    Exploration: Yes
    Floristics: Yes
    Horticulture: No
    Invasive Species Biology and Control: No
    Molecular Genetics: No
    Pollination Biology: Yes
    Restoration Ecology: Yes
    Seed/Spore Biology: No
    Systematics and Taxonomy: No
    Sustainability: Yes
    Pharmacology: No
    Agriculture: No
    Land Restoration: Yes
    Urban Environments: Yes

Education Programmes

  • Visitor/Education Centre: Yes
    Education Signs in Garden: Yes
    Public Lectures/Talks: Yes
    Education Booklets/Leaflets: Yes
    Guided Tours: Yes
    Permanent Public Displays: Yes
    Special Exhibitions: Yes
    Courses for School Children: Yes
    Courses for University/College Students: Yes
    Courses for General Public: Yes
    Education Programme: Yes

Recovery of the Florida Torreya - one of the rarest conifers in the world

Torreya taxifolia, known as the Florida Torreya, is one of the rarest conifers in the world. Once found as a canopy tree, Torreya is an evergreen dioecious tree endemic to a narrow range of bluffs and ravines adjacent to the Apalachicola River in northwest Florida and extreme southwest Georgia. In the mid-20th Century this species suffered a catastrophic decline as all reproductive age trees died. In the decades that followed, this species did not recover. What remains is a population approximately 0.3% of its original size, which is subjected to changes in hydrology, forest structure, heavy browsing by deer, loss of reproduction capability, as well as dieback from fungal disease. Atlanta Botanical Garden’s dedication and efforts to protect Torreya furthers understanding of its ecology and life cycle as well as the decline of this once majestic species. The ongoing research to meet recovery objectives for this species is presented here, as well as how they relate to other rare species conservation and evolution under predicted climate change.

In 1984 this species was listed Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In 1990, Atlanta Botanical Garden received 155 clones of T. taxifolia propagated from the remaining natural population by Arnold Arboretum and the Center for Plant Conservation. This material has been safeguarded at the Atlanta Botanical Garden since that time, and propagation efforts have increased the collection to include almost 1,000 plants, including nearly 500 distinct vegetative clones from the wild. The distribution of material across institutions has decreased; only two of the original ten gardens still maintain collections.  The number of clonal lineages has decreased only slightly in the past 25 years, but only half of cultivated material across multiple institutions remains. The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) awarded sponsorship to the Garden for Torreya taxifolia in 2010.

David Ruland, Greenhouse Manager, collecting cones for propagation and distribution. David is an expert at propagating Torreya and has produced hundreds of trees from cuttings and seed, from both wild and cultivated material

Allozyme analysis was used to evaluate multiple populations within the five ravines in which Torreya taxifolia occured in 1994. Genetic diversity detected using allozyme markers in the ex-situ population of Torreya maintained at Atlanta Botanical Garden was found to be higher than that in wild populations. Differences are likely due to the bottleneck effect and decline in genetic variation in the wild. Diversity of cultivated collections was close to the average level found in gymnosperms and typical of long-lived species with mixed-mating systems.

One of the limiting factors to ex situ conservation of this species is the inability to use conventional seed storage techniques for preserving germplasm. Torreya taxifolia produces recalcitrant wet seeds that cannot be dried for storage in freezers. Therefore, until recently the only way to maintain ex situ germplasm was through living collections.

In collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology, a somatic embryogenesis tissue culture system was developed to initiate cultures, produce somatic seedlings and cryogenically store cultures of T. taxifolia. Large numbers of somatic embryos and resulting seedlings can be developed in culture from a single seed. One of the lessons learned was that the water potential (-MPa) of T. taxifolia gametophyte tissue rises greatly, in contrast to many other coniferous tree seeds, during seed after-ripening, and mimicry of this rise in vitro is necessary to continue development of somatic embryos to produce new seedlings in culture. All of the genotypes tested for cryopreservation were successfully recovered after retrieval from liquid nitrogen and can provide material for disease research, restoration or establishment of seed nurseries for conservation.

Timothy Putzke, Conservation Horticulturist, inspects Torreya fruit prior to harvest

Garden staff began collaborating with biologists and researchers at the Florida Park Service and the University of Florida in 2008. Efforts have included evaluation and mapping of wild trees. Research has been conducted identifying the disease causing agent as a new species of Fusarium (Fusarium torrayae). Field surveys have found that stem damage from deer antler rubbing is a significant source of stress in addition to disease, and is causing severe impacts to more than 50% of trees.

Efforts at understanding ecological requirements of this species for reintroduction include caging the trees to protect them from deer damage. To date 21.6% of surveyed wild trees have been caged for protection. Although the majority of habitat for T. taxifolia is protected in state parks or by The Nature Conservancy, until damage from deer and stem canker can be controlled, recovery of the species is dependent on ex situ conservation efforts.

Collaboration with the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance facilitated partnership with the University of Georgia. This relationship led to the establishment of an experimental planting of Torreya at a University research station in 2000. The research site has now developed into a seed orchard, and nearly 5,000 cones were harvested in 2016. Seed has been shared, and seedlings are being distributed to other botanical gardens to use in developing additional ex situ collections and another seed orchard.

Torreya taxifiolia seed orchard (a collaborative project between ABG & UGA) - This female tree was grown from lateral cuttings and, along with 20 others, was planted in 2000. Nearly 5,000 fruit were harvested in 2016

Over the past ten years significant progress has been made in developing a variety of techniques for conservation of this critically imperiled species. These collaborative projects have resulted in scientific publications, presentations and educational materials for the public. Future research will determine the host range of the disease and offer insights on its origins. Current efforts include evaluation of the current status of the species, estimation of remaining genetic variability in the wild, and efforts to reintroduce the species into areas where it has been lost.  Seed production in ex situ collections has increased dramatically, increasing diversity of this species in cultivation and availability of plant material for safeguarding and research.

Please contact Carrie Radcliffe (Restoration Coordinator & Safeguarding Database Manager, Department of Conservation & Research - Atlanta Botanical Garden) for more information about this project.