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Developing the BGCI Database on Botanic Gardens and their Collections Worldwide

Volume 2 Number 2 - July 1993
Etelka Leadlay, Diane Wyse Jackson and Peter Wyse Jackson

Over the past three years, the BGCI database on botanic gardens and their plant holdings, BGC-DATA, has been re-developed by our Computer Analyst and System Manager Diane Wyse Jackson. The database has four major components which are maintained and up-dated continuously:

  1. Botanic gardens of the world
  2. Rare and threatened plants in cultivation
  3. Cultivation and propagation methods for plants in botanic gardens and
  4. Education resources in botanic gardens.

Examples of publications derived from data maintained in the BGC-DATA include The International Directory of Botanical Gardens (ed. V), Cultivation and Propagation Methods for Plants in Botanic Gardens: a sample database (October 1992) and the Education Resource Catalogue Nos. 1-3 (1991 - 1993).

In June 1993 BGCI mailed to its botanic garden members a List of plants of conservation interest for each garden (based on information stored in the database and the a data sheet on each garden and its facilities.

We hope that the gardens will find the BGCI list of conservation plants useful in planning the management of their collections. This list also gives the current IUCN conservation category (Red Data Book category) as well as an indication of how many other botanic gardens we know maintain material of the same taxon.

Using the International Transfer Format

As of 1993, we are now adding more information to the database by means of electronic transfer than manually. Many botanic gardens have record systems that are compatible with The International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Plant Records (ITF). This allow them to produce a file of their garden's accessions in the ITF format. When we receive such a file (on diskette or tape) we can screen the list by comparing it with the complete world threatened plants file. The world threatened plants file is maintained and regularly updated by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, U.K. WCMC has enabled BGCI to receive regular updates of this file to help our work in locating and monitoring plants of conservation interest in botanic gardens.

BGCI will continue to include data received from botanic gardens in non-electronic form. Some botanic gardens have not yet developed computer systems for the management of their plant records and others are not compatible with the ITF. However, data analysis and incorporation by electronic means has obvious advantages both for BGCI and for the individual gardens supplying information. Electronic screening of a garden's complete holdings removes the need for their staff to complete laborious questionnaires on their accessions. Furthermore, annual or regular updating is easy and quick so that changes to the threatened plants database and new accessions obtained by each botanic garden can be quickly incorporated and highlighted.

In return for receiving data from botanic gardens, BGCI will provide an annual analysis of their holdings, in the form of an individual report or, if the garden requests it, on a diskette in a word processed or ASCII file. In addition, for botanic gardens providing ITF records to BGCI, we are able to give them in return, on diskette, the known IUCN conservation category for each accession, as well as useful information on the known geographical distributions of many taxa.

Some botanic gardens who received database print-outs on their holdings from BGCI in June, may find that this list does not reflect the true extent of the conservation holdings in the garden. If this is the case, we would very much appreciate hearing from them and working towards either immediate or eventual electronic screening of their holdings. Alternatively, we will be pleased to supply printed questionnaires of the known rare or threatened plants for any geographical region or taxonomic group for gardens to complete indicating their holdings. Furthermore, if a Garden's records are not on computer, we hope that the Garden will make corrections and additions to the list they receive and return it to BGCI so that we can make changes to the database.

(In 1992, BGCI, received, incorporated and screened over 50,000 botanic garden ITF records of accessions from various gardens. In 1993, we hope to attain our target of 250,000 accessions screened. We would also like to know more about the plant record system of every botanic garden and whether it is possible to screen the Garden's holdings using the ITF during 1993.

Seeking Information on Botanic Gardens and their Facilities

BGCI is urgently working to keep its database on botanic gardens and their facilities up-to-date. At present BGC-DATA contains information on about 1,600 institutions worldwide that maintain live plant collections. This information was used in the preparation of the International Directory of Botanical Gardens and will certainly be used to produce future editions. Although corrections and additions are made to the database almost daily we would also like botanic gardens to regularly review the information we hold on their institutions. For that purpose, we prepared and mailed a print-out to each member institution in June giving the details currently held. We are also particularly interested in gaining more information on the methods of germplasm storage used in botanic gardens and are sending our members a new separate questionnaire on that topic: BGCI Botanic Garden Questionnaire - Garden Development/Networks/Germplasm storage. We would be very grateful if members could correct the BGCI Botanic Garden Data for their garden and complete the separate BGCI Botanic Garden Questionnaire and return them to BGCI as soon as possible. If any readers have not received this questionnaire and would like to do so please contact BGCI and we will forward a copy.

We will also be pleased to supply members with free access to BGC-DATA on request and can, for example, provide a diskette containing the complete world botanic garden address list, an ideal resource for any institution mailing its Index Seminum or publicizing a forthcoming event or conference.

Botanic Garden Plant Records/Database/Computer System Questionnaire

In March, 1993, BGCI sent a questionnaire entitled Botanic Garden Plant Records/Database/Computer System Questionnaire to all BGCI botanic garden members to find out the current status of plant records and computer systems in their institutions. With this information we will be able to plan and provide better support for botanic garden record systems.

We are very grateful for all the replies that we have received so far and look forward to receiving more completed questionnaires.

The names of each plant records or computer manager are being included in BGC-DATA so that we can send them regular information on database developments and plant records from institutions worldwide. We hope that this will help to provide a new forum for greater co-operation and exchange between many institutions and to reduce the isolation that database or records managers feel from their colleagues in similar disciplines in other countries.

If there are other people interested in being included in this new network for botanic gardens please contact BGCI and we will be pleased to send you information on what is planned. Some of the first tasks planned for the network include:

  • the consideration of enhancements possible for the International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Plant Records
  • a review of what software packages for botanic garden record management are currently available and
  • consideration of what are the needs and possibilities for training plant records managers in computer methods in more botanic gardens.