One of the questions I receive most at UBC Botanical Garden is “Where do you get your plants from?” As the Curator/Horticulturist for the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden, the response is not simple. Some plants we receive as donations from local alpine plant growers, some we purchase from speciality nurseries. I also go on collecting trips to obtain seeds and plants from the wild. However, the source for most of our plants is an in-kind, international seed swap between botanical gardens called Index Seminum. Each garden collects seed, creates a list of offerings, and sends it out to the other organizations. Desiderata, or requests lists, are filled in response, and organizations ship the desired seeds at no cost. My inbox is usually overflowing with lists of seeds from all around the world by mid-January, and likewise, I send UBC’s offerings to more than 200 other botanical gardens.
This is a wonderful example of the collaborative spirit I love about botanic gardens. By sharing our resources, botanic gardens are able to safeguard their collections by ensuring valuable plants are grown at other sites. As well, we capitalize on the collections trips of colleagues from around the world. Collecting trips are essential activities of botanic gardens, but can be expensive excursions. By offering locally collected wild seeds, we can share with partner gardens that may not be able to visit our eco-region in person. Our local flora may seem ordinary to us, but our offerings may represent welcome, valuable and, dare I say, exotic addition to gardens elsewhere. Similarly, when a garden has the funding for a trip, it is not usually a burden to collect extra seeds and share what they can.
At UBC Botanical Garden, we have been participating in Index Seminum since 1956, and publishing our list every other year. Although I manage this project, I certainly couldn’t do it alone. Last year, Ben Stormes, Curator/Horticulturist of the North American Gardens (BC Rainforest Garden, Carolinian Garden, and The Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland Garden), was able to collect surplus seed on his Ontario collecting trip for our Index Seminum—accounting for a quarter of our list. Garden staff and Friends of the Garden helped me collect and clean seed, as well as fill and ship the orders we received.
Our list this year had 80 offerings. About half were collected from the UBC Botanical Garden collections, the other half in the wild (from local and Ontario sites). We received requests from more than 100 institutions, and shipped 685 seed packages, primarily to Europe, but also Africa, Asia, North America and South America. Our most popular plant—at 39 requests—was for the lovely, but rarely cultivated Rhododendron albiflorum, the local white rhododendron. In exchange, I ordered 77 types of seed from 11 institutions. Our talented Nursery Supervisor, Kevin Kubeck, will grow them on, and we look forward to their addition, for both the enhancement of the collections, and enjoyment of our visitors.
Submitted by: Laura Caddy, E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden Curator & Horticulturist