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Living Collections

Credit: New York Botanical Garden

A "living collection" is a group of plants grown for a defined purpose.
Growing a particular group of plants can focus the expertise and resources need to support those plants, can meet the needs for research and develop, and help with interpretation and outreach.
  • Garden design should plan to accomodate the for the needs of certain collections.
  • Information management is needed to efficiently maintain and record the contents of collections.
Larger botanic gardens may have one or more collections and types of collections, but even the smallest of botanic gardens will have at least one group plants that falls within these categories.

Living collections can be categorised as:

  • Geographical
  • Taxonomic
  • Thematic
  • Ecological collections

Native plant collections cultivate plants from their surrounding region or national flora.


Taxonomic collections focus on taxonomic groups to support education, research, conservation and public display. For example, some gardens may specialise in the collection of ferns, others in the collection of the Palmaceae. Larger gardens may form collections of more than one taxonomic group.


Thematic collections specialise in a limited range of related or morphologically similar plants in support of education, science, conservation and public display. These include orchids, roses, Rhododendron, bamboos and succulents or thematic collections such as ethnobotanical, medicinal plants, crops (particularly minor crops in botanic gardens), bonsai, topiary, butterfly gardens, carnivorous plants and aquatics.

Ecological Collections

This approach to collection focuses on plants from one habitat or ecotype - examples of these collections include alpines, epiphytes or aquatic plants.


BGjournal is the worldwide journal of botanic garden conservation. It covers a range of detailed content including in-depth features, congress reports, profiles of gardens and case studies of conservation work being carried out in gardens around the world.


Seed Banks

Seed banks are essential for ex situ conservation, and many botanic gardens contribute and collect seeds for storage. However, setting up a bank, collecting and maintaining viable and representative stocks is very challenging.



Find Out More

Bauble Botanical Collection Management
Bauble is a software application to help you (yes you) manage a collection of botanical specimens. It is intended to be used by botanic gardens, herbaria, arboreta, etc. to manage their collection information. It is a open, free, cross-platform alternative to BG-Base and similiar software.

BG-BASE is a powerful, well proven database application for managing records of collections of biological material. In wide use by botanic gardens, arboreta, and herbaria, BG-BASE facilitates basic inventory control, and enables users to fully document, label and curate their collections.

The Internet Directory for Botany
The Internet Directory of Botany is an index to botanical information available on the Internet, compiled by Anthony R. Brach. It started as a personal bookmark list of botanical sites and is now a large resource for the botanical community.

Global Biodiversity Information Facility
Biodiversity and biodiversity information are essential to a sustainable future for society. GBIF is making recorded knowledge about biodiversity available to everyone using the Internet. Anyone with records of biodiversity can send data into GBIF to help build an online image of life on earth.

Plantlife - The Wild Plant Conservation Charity
Plantlife is the only charity working solely to protect Britain’s wild flowers and plants, fungi and lichens, and the habitats in which they are found. There are many great ways for everyone to get involved in plant conservation on their website. Click the link to find out more.

Journal Articles

January 2010

BGCI PlantSearch Database
The BGCI plant search allows you to research plants in living collections all around the world. It gives cross-referenced information with Red Data Lists, plant images, the International Plant Names Index, Crop Wild Relatives, and the Tree Conservation Database.