Research In The Garden

Research in the Garden

Research Opportunities

Researchers and students are invited to contact us to determine if UBC Botanical Garden has the resources and/or collections to support your individual research interests. In addition to its significant plant collections, UBC Botanical Garden has expert horticultural and botanical staff, plant-growing facilities (including a nursery), resident faunal and floral biodiversity, and a mission to promote research.

Research Projects Conducted in UBC Botanical Garden

Monitoring plant condition and phenology using infrared sensitive consumer grade digital cameras

Wiebe Nijland, Rogier de Jong, Steven M. de Jong, Michael A. Wulder, Chris W. Bater, Nicholas C. Coops

This research team with representation from UBC’s Faculty of Forestry compared infrared-modified and true colour cameras to detect seasonal development of understory plants species in a forest, with the main goal of evaluating the utility of infrared-modified cameras for the remote monitoring of plant health and phenology. The British Columbia Rainforest Garden in UBC Botanical Garden provided an accessible location for mounting the cameras as well as seasonally-changing vegetation. The research paper: Nijland, W et al. 2014. Monitoring plant condition and phenology using infrared sensitive consumer grade digital cameras. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 15 January 2014, 184(98-106).

Geographic Variation in Birds of Western Canada

Darren Irwin (lead), Alison Porter, Kate Broadley, Christine Grossen, Kira Delmore, Thomas Pierce, Michelle Chen, Stephanie Cavanagh, Jessica Irwin

Studying how and why there are differences between western and eastern forms in a variety of species, as well as much geographic variation within western forms. The team uses mist nets to temporarily capture individual birds, measure and photograph them, and take a blood sample (for later genetic analysis) and feather sample (for later isotopic analysis). The birds are then banded with numbered leg bands and released.

The Pink Mountain Project: Preserving the Irreplaceable

UBC Botanical Garden staff: Daniel Mosquin, Egan Davis; Partners: Ron Long (principal conservationist), Nature Vancouver, Alpine Garden Club of British Columbia, and a number of benefactors

Researchers from UBC Botanical Garden have been visiting Pink Mountain in northeast British Columbia to sample the unique plant and soil biodiversity of the region. During a 2013 visit, researchers gathered an initial collection of about 150 vascular plants. More importantly, over 1,000 plants were metal-tagged, identified, measured and geo-located for long-term study.

Seeds from a half dozen target species were collected, and germination trials were done. The resulting plants were cared for in part by horticulture students and are now planted in the UBC Botanical Garden. Selecting the target taxa was a labour-intensive process. Studies are continuing on seed fecundity, a measure of how many seeds a plant produces. Through this project, baseline data has been established for a long-term study of population dynamics and the effect of climate change on this region.

Work with the sampled soil and plant materials continues, and there may be future visits to gather additional samples. However, with what has been sampled so far, a strong case can be made for protecting the most fragile and unique area of the mountain. A red-listed plant species and several blue-listed species were found, and the Garden is awaiting confirmation that they discovered a new moss species for BC in the area. The Garden and other groups and individuals continue to work toward the goal of preserving the most biodiverse area of Pink Mountain as an ecological reserve.

Bryophytes of the UBC Botanical Garden

Sean Graham (lead), Steve Joya, Sean Montgomery

Multiple collecting trips for bryophytes within the Garden (the last bryophyte inventory was done in 2002). In 2013, Montgomery deposited vouchered samples in the UBC herbarium and also started DNA barcoding work on the samples in the Graham Lab. On the field and organismal side of things, Montgomery will be mentored by Joya, a young bryologist who actively contributes to the UBC Herbarium.

Joint collection forays

2016: UBC Botanical Garden partnered with staff from RBG Edinburgh and Howick Arboretum to collect BC native plants

2015: UBC Botanical Garden partnered with staff from RBG Kew to collect BC native plants

2012: UBC Botanical Garden staff partnered with staff from RBG Kew and Uppsala University, Sweden to collect cacti in the BC Interior

2011, 2010: UBC Botanical Garden staff partnered with staff from Makino Botanical Garden to collect BC native plants with medicinal potential

UBC Botanical Garden, in partnership with the UBC Herbarium, has established occasional plant collection foray within British Columbia. For the Garden, these forays help serve the purpose of renewing the native plant collections within the British Columbia Rainforest Garden as well as develop the collections in the Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland Garden and the Pacific Slope Garden. These forays also help to provide field experience and training to students and expand the documented knowledge of the British Columbia flora.

Involvement with Canadensys and other research programs

UBC Botanical Garden is an institutional partner in the Canada-wide Canadensys project. Through funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation for Canadensys, UBC Botanical Garden has been able to significantly improve the identification, documentation, and herbarium specimen deposits of its plant collections. In turn, this has allowed UBC Botanical Garden to make plant tissue and DNA sequence data available to the International Barcode of Life and oneKP projects.

Magnolia phenology project

UBC Friends of the Garden, in coordination with UBC Botanical Garden and staff members, have developed a long-term monitoring project of Magnolia phenology in UBC Botanical Garden’s collections. Phenology, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena in relation to climate, is a mechanism by which long-term changes in climate can be identified. The Magnolia phenology project has been ongoing for over 20 years.

Franklinia Foundation Support, 2004 – ongoing

Since 2004, the Franklinia Foundation has partnered with UBC Botanical Garden to support conservation research. This partnership has led to important research, both at UBC and with international partners, while making training opportunities and research experiences for staff and students possible.

The Foundation’s support has led to meaningful engagement with a broad community through joint expeditions, with procurement and exchange of plant material and public engagement through presentations and lectures. It has also helped catalyze significant collaborations with a number of botanical gardens and international organizations.

Conservation work supported by the Franklinia Foundation has contributed greatly to the Garden’s mission (conservation research and teaching), while enriching the scientific collections and public enjoyment of the David. C. Lam Asian Garden.

Andrew Hill, Curator, David C. Lam Asian Garden (since 2008)

  • 2017, 2016, 2014 Vietnam, Hoang Lien Mountains expedition
  • 2010 China, Sichuan and Yunnan expeditions
  • 2009 China, Magnoliaceae symposium
  • 2009 China, Sichuan expedition

Douglas Justice, Associate Director, Horticulture and Collections

  • 2017, 2016 Vietnam, Hoang Lien Mountains expedition
  • 2009 China, Magnoliaceae symposium

Peter Wharton, Curator, David C. Lam Asian Garden (until 2008)

  • 2008 China, Sichuan expedition
  • 2007 Vietnam, Hoang Lien Mountains expedition
  • 2006 China, Sichuan and Vietnam, Hoang Lien Son expeditions
  • 2005 Vietnam, Hoang Lien Mountains expedition
  • 2004 China, Yunnan and Vietnam, Hoang Lien Mountains expeditions

Total collections made (approximate):

  • 600 seed collections
  • 1800 herbarium vouchers
  • 150 DNA samples
  • Extensive data collections, field notes and photographic images

Expedition highlights


  • Ailao Shan Nature Reserve and Wuliang Shan: species range mapping and vouchering
  • Dafengding Nature Reserve and Emei Shan: extensive botanical field exploration and data collections
  • Hengduan Shan: detailed survey and comprehensive collections of critically endangered Acer pentaphyllum


  • Hoang Lien Son Mountains: biodiversity forest surveys of Magnolia and Acer for Global Trees Campaign; general floristic surveys for Flora of the Hoang Lien National Park project

Professional collaborations

UBC Botanical Garden continues to reinforce existing collaborative relationships, as well as develop new relationships with institutional partners in Canada and abroad. These collaborations provide opportunities for work and sharing of information. The Garden has also entered into collaborative agreements with Kunming Institute of Botany and Sichuan University (see a listing of partners at bottom of page).

Current Exploration work

For the second time in two years Andrew Hill and Douglas Justice participated in a two-week expedition to northwestern Vietnam concentrating on the Hoang Lien Son (Hoang Lien Mountain Range). A great number of species native to this area are currently threatened by deforestation and development, and many have very small, vulnerable populations. The goals for these trips are to survey and record the plant diversity primarily in the upper montane (i.e., temperate) zone. Each time, herbarium collections are made, with accompanying digital photographs, habitat notes and GPS coordinates. Specialist field research like this will lead to a better understanding of species distribution and conservation issues that threaten these populations. Following from this and previous collection trips to the Hoang Lien Son, UBC Botanical Garden is entering into an agreement to produce with our various partners a floristic account of the Hoang Lien Son. The Garden is currently in discussions with a number of collectors, as well as a potential institutional partners for the project.

Partner Institutions