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The Botanic Garden of the Irkutsk State University

Volume 2 Number 4 - December 1994
Victor Ya.Kuzevanov

The Botanic Garden of the Irkutsk State University (BG-ISU) which was created in 1941, today occupies 27.08 ha. of the Sverdlovsk region of Irkutsk city (70 km. west of Lake Baikal). It is the only site of plant introduction in eastern Siberia and designated by law as a nature reserve within the city of Irkutsk.

The principle tasks of BG-ISU are plant introduction, the training of university students, schoolchildren and the general population, and the improvement of the ecological situation. BG-ISU works to save the genetically-diverse flora of eastern Siberia by adding to its collection of living plants and studying their biology. With the existing collection, and assortment of plants better adapted to local and other climatic and ecological conditions, BG-ISU endeavors to increase the amount of green areas in the city and to improve the environment. BG-ISU carries out educational activities regarding nature conservation and botanical knowledge. BG-ISU is the only botanic garden in central Siberia included in the International Directory of Botanical Gardens and it is a member of the Network of Botanic Gardens in Russia.

BG-ISU maintains and studies a collection of 1,300 live plant species and varieties from various regions of the world (estimated value of 3 million roubles at 1991 prices). BG-ISU is a center of training and practical study for students of the Biological, Soil, Geological, Geographical and Chemical Faculties of Irkutsk State University at which staff members give lectures and carry out research. In the past five years, students at BG-ISU have completed 1 doctorate, 6 master's and 8 bachelor degrees. Courses and workshops are held regularly for student pharmacologists of the Irkutsk State Medical Institute, students of the Irkutsk State Pedagogical Institute, summer students of the Irkutsk Pharmacological College, as well as for school teachers. School groups also make frequent field trips. In the past five years, staff members have published 14 articles and 7 conference abstracts in Russian publications. Once every two years, BG-ISU issues a seed list, "Delectus of the Irkutsk Botanic Garden", as part of its international seed exchange programme.

Currently, BG-ISU is organized into four sections:

1.Section of Dendrology

Occupies about 8 ha. Maintains and studies approximately 300 species of woody plants and bushes, including both the local Siberian flora, the flora of the former Soviet Union and the world.

2.Section of Wild Flora and Conservation Genebank

Occupies about 1 ha., on which over 300 species are maintained. Consists of three collections: systematic, medicinal plants, and rare and endangered plants of eastern Siberia.

3.Section of Flowering and Decorative Plants

Over 500 species are maintained in a field and 2 greenhouses (1,000 m2 and 200 m2). Tropical and subtropical cultures are included.

4.Section of Horticultural Plants

Occupies about 2 ha. over 200 species and varieties of fruiting and other cultivated plants.

At the moment, BG-ISU is registered as a branch of the university, but it expects to become an independent entity within the next few years. The staff includes 29 members (incl. 4 PhDs): 3 administrative workers, 12 biologists, 3 senior and 2 junior lab workers, 4 gardeners, and 4 guards. Presently, the University provides only operating expenses and staff salaries (average $40 per month) for BG-ISU. Financial support for BG-ISU restoration and maintenance was discontinued over 5 years ago. The infrastructure of BG-ISU is in poor condition. There is no machinery for soil treatment, methods of transport, elementary equipment for botanical, physiological and soil research or sewerage system. The perimeter fence remains broken in several spots because the university is not able to provide funds for its repair. Nearby residents trespass on the grounds of BG-ISU constantly, leading to frequent destruction and theft of valuable plants. The one guard per 24 hour period allowed by the university's budget cannot patrol 27 ha. adequately. Especially destructive are teenagers who build fires in the midst of a relict pine forest situated on BG-ISU territory. Four years ago, almost 1.5 ha. of the forest were designated for cutting by the administration of the city of Irkutsk to build a highway and homes. At least 0.25 ha. have been cut and the completion of one building has seriously damaged the ecology of the forest. Both a hot water pumping station and a power station for city trolleybuses now run through BG-ISU. Lawns and natural fields were harmed by construction machinery. Building materials and trash litter the forest as a result of the construction. A temporary order of stay exists for the forested area not yet cut. Beginning in 1981, almost 60% of the valuable tropical and subtropical plants died every winter due to accidents that resulted from a dangerously constructed heating system. This system has been repaired as one of the first acts of the new management of BG-ISU, financed independently from the University.

Unfortunately, the break-up of the Soviet Union has forced fundamental changes in the system supporting botanical, ecological and biotechnological research and there are many shortages, and we have to look for collaboration/support from international sources.

At present BG-ISU is looking for collaboration in:

  1. A GENE BANK PROJECT for rare and endemic Siberian plants conservation (seed banks, collections, etc).
  2. The making of a COMPUTER DATABASE (Paradox 3.5, scanning of colour pictures & maps) of plant genetic resources in Siberia as a part of Gene Bank Project.
  3. Botanical expeditions (+ ecological tourism) around the Baikal Lake to save endangered plants.
  4. Clonal propagation (fruit trees, etc) and genetic transformation of plants.
  5. Seed exchange and/or seed production.
  6. Publication of attractive brochures and photo-cards on Siberian flowering plants.