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Frequently Asked Questions



General Questions on IPEN

Isn't IPEN to be considered as an imposition from the outside?

Answer: IPEN has been discussed for many years within the Botanic gardens community. It is a voluntary constraint, which the gardens decide to subscribe to, in order to maintain the access to wild collected material in accordance with the CBD and in spite of the distrust of the countries of origin. CBD and the regulations for Access to genetic resources are imposed; IPEN represents a voluntary model to react to these constraints in a sensible way.

Doesn't IPEN lead to two classes of botanic gardens, IPEN members and non-members?

Answer: The aim of IPEN is to include more and more botanic gardens. If most gardens become IPEN members, this problem will not occur. IPEN seeks to improve the profile of Botanic Gardens in the countries of origin. In many of these countries, Botanic Gardens are considered to support “biopiracy” and compared to Pharmaceutical companies (in regard of the use of genetic resources). It is therefore most important that the confidence of the countries of origin of the genetic resources is restored and the work of the Botanic Gardens is understood. This is the essence of IPEN: the botanic gardens state that they don't use the plants commercially and that they don't give it away for commercial purposes without the agreement of the country of origin.

How can you get a confirmation that the exchanged material conforms to the CBD?

Answer: You can only rely on your common sense. Don't accept plants that come from an uncertain source. When you order from seed lists of Botanic gardens, you can decide where you order. Most problems come from 'gifts' and plants brought by collaborators. You need to inform your staff and garden friends and make sure that you have the required collection permits (not necessary for EU countries). Personal trust is also important; therefore it is difficult to give a general answer to this question.

Do you need to share benefits when you exchange material from European countries between European countries?

Answer: At the European level, Benefit Sharing is not implemented. Nevertheless even the European county of origin should be informed of the results of research with its material and copies of publications should be sent to the institutions having provided the material.

Plants entering IPEN

What can you do with plants that have been offered to the garden of which it is uncertain/doubtful that they have been acquired according to the CBD?

Answer: The person in charge of the BG has to decide. If it is doubtful that the material has been legally acquired, the decision must be: NO!


Does IPEN require supplementary administrative work; e.g. you need to set up or adapt your database and trace the origin of your plant material, without having supplementary personal and financial resources. This is difficult especially for small gardens.

Answer: You don't need to have all your plants in a database from the beginning, (even though this would scientifically make sense and should be a target for all botanic gardens). IPEN primarily concerns the plants that are offered for exchange in the Index Seminum. In most cases, these lists are today made with a computer. So you can give the IPEN number when you edit the Index or even only when plants are ordered and dispatched. This can considerably reduce the amount of work related to IPEN. Also, small gardens usually have small Indexes and relatively few exchanges.

Do the gardens have to trace the original garden that first introduced these plants from the wild, or do we start the registration from the moment of joining IPEN?

Answer: If the first garden that has introduced the plants is known this information should be kept and supplied. But the registration (with IPEN-number) starts from the moment of joining IPEN: that means not from the moment of entering the IPEN garden but from the moment the IPEN garden supplies it.

How can you find out the origin of all plants acquired after 1993?

Answer: You don't need to do this for all the plants. As long as they stay in the garden and are not distributed, the origin is not relevant (apart from scientific interest of course). Also, if you don't have any information, you can't give it. From a scientific point of view, these plants are not well suited for exchange anyway.

Don't you lose information if you give the same type of IPEN number to plants of different origins (collected in the wild or not)?

Answer: The IPEN number is not meant to reflect this type of information. Some gardens make this difference in their accession number. In that case it will automatically also appear in the IPEN numbers from that garden. Anyway when you receive plant material you access it to your own recording system where you can keep this information as you are used to do.

Can the IPEN number be the accession number for my garden? Or, do you need two different numbering systems for the same plant (IPEN and Accession-Nr)?

Answer: YES, two different numbers are necessary. The IPEN number given to the plant material by the first garden introducing that material into IPEN has to stay with that plant material and its descendants. When you receive the material, you give it your accession number according to your usual procedure. The IPEN number must be linked to this accession number and its descendants, who may have different accession numbers, according to your accessioning policy, but they must always keep the same IPEN number. So, you will need to track two different numbers: your accession number and the IPEN number.

Plants leaving IPEN

May plants still be given away (e.g. to collaborators, staff ...)?

Answer: It must be made clear that the plant material may only be used for non-commercial purposes. Most important is to inform the staff about the CBD and IPEN. It would be sensible to use the IPEN Material Supply Agreement.

Commercial use

Can a garden sell plants from a local nursery to accommodate the visitors while avoiding selling the plants from the collection? Or would this still be considered a commercial activity that is in violation of the IPEN regulations?

Answer: That is no problem. It would perhaps be good to inform that no garden material is sold.

Some plant species have been saved from extinction by a coordinated effort of a botanic garden and a specialized commercial nursery. Will this still be possible?

Answer: Any IPEN member is allowed to supply material even to non-IPEN-members, using the IPEN Material Supply Agreement. But if a commercial company is involved, the PIC from the country of origin must be requested in advance and a bilateral agreement between the partners is necessary.

What happens when a botanic garden goes bankrupt? The plants, which were acquired under the CBD regulations in the years before the bankruptcy happened, then come under the jurisdiction of a curator, who can sell them in order to reduce the financial deficit. Is there any possibility to avoid this?

Answer: That’s a very tricky issue…the only possibility to save such a plant collection is to have them as “National collection” that is not allowed to be solved according to the contract. Such collections have to be given to other Botanic Gardens or potential holders. (This question shows the necessity of establishing national collections and provides a good argument for it…)

Relations with non-IPEN-institutions

Is it possible for an IPEN-garden to have a bilateral limited-period-agreement (e.g. 5 years) with a non-IPEN garden without violating the IPEN regulations?

Answer: It is possible but it does not make much sense. The non-IPEN garden must accept the IPEN conditions either by signing the IPEN Material Supply Agreement for any plant transfer or by a bilateral agreement that complies with the CBD and with IPEN. In the last case it would be easier to become an IPEN member.

IPEN numbers

Do the IPEN member gardens have to provide all their plants with IPEN-numbers?

Answer: No, only the material that is supplied to other IPEN members have to be provided with an IPEN-number. This IPEN number accompanies the plant in any case of transfer. If the garden supplies material that already has an IPEN-number, this number must be used.

Do all plants that are offered by an IPEN-garden require an IPEN number (A), or (B) only those that were collected in the wild, or even all plants of a new IPEN member (C)?

Answer: Option A is applicable. The IPEN-number of the garden that offers the plants is not necessarily the garden that first introduced these plants from the wild habitat.

How do you give IPEN numbers to plants bought in a garden-centre?

Answer: If the plants are to be exchanged through IPEN (although usually they will not be of scientific interest) they should have an IPEN number. Of course you can only give information about provenance as far as you have it.

How do you give IPEN numbers to plants received from gardens that are not IPEN members or that have not yet introduced IPEN numbers?

Answer: You give an IPEN number yourself when you provide the plant for exchange.

Couldn't it happen that the same plant material receives different IPEN numbers in different gardens, so that you will have several IPEN numbers for the same plant?

Answer: This cannot be excluded, especially in the beginning. But it is better that a plant has two IPEN numbers than none at all. The numbers are important whenever Benefit Sharing becomes necessary. They guarantee that the country of origin may then be traced.

How can you handle descendants from controlled pollinisation when the mother plants come from two different countries? Which country can be chosen as Country of Origin?

Answer: The suggestion would be to choose the CoO of the female mother plant as it dominates more often the descendent. Anyway the garden should supply additional information that this plant is a hybrid. Also, the garden which introduces the plant into the IPEN must keep the information about both parents of the hybrid (if available) for later needs.

If we receive seeds of a single species from more than one garden we do mix them for seeding, especially if the species are annual or biennial. Should we write the abbreviations of all the countries of the donators?

Answer: Principally it is necessary for IPEN to use most exact documentation. From a scientific point of view, it is never useful to mix accessions from different gardens together. Normally they have to be treated separate – except for the internal use in displays only. Regarding annuals or biennial plants, it would be scientific adequate if Botanic gardens would distribute seeds from Botanic Gardens with documented origin. It is not necessary to give all plants of the collection IPEN-numbers. Only if you give away seeds or plants, these must have an IPEN-number.

Acronym of IPEN-Number: Is it possible to change the acronym?

Answer: If a garden does like to change its acronym, it has to contact BGCI directly. In general it would be helpful if the garden does accept the acronym which is provided by BGCI.

Fourth element of the IPEN number: Does the number of the year stand for the period during which the species has entered the garden for the first time or the year during which the seeds were collected and stored?

Answer: The Fourth element within the IPEN-number is the complete accession-number of this plant. If the garden have not used accession numbers up-to-now, it must use them. Some gardens enumerate their holdings from 00001 – 99999. Other gardens use the year when it is sown out (e.g. 1999-326), and so on and so forth. Every garden can create its own system.


How do you handle plants that hybridize easily (e.g. Aquilegia)?

Answer: Such plants should not be part of an Index Seminum anyway, as this makes no scientific sense. If another garden wants to have such plants for example for display, then you give them an IPEN number.

How do you find the National Focal Point of a country?

Answer: See the Internet site of the CBD (

How can you get a collection permit?

Answer: This you need to find out for each country anew, best through the country's National Focal Point. In most EU-countries and Switzerland you don't need a permit for not protected plants.