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Darwin in the garden: Engaging the public about evolution with museum collections of living objects

Polls continue to show distressingly high percentages of people around the world do not accept that evolution has occurred. Even among individuals who accept evolution, surveys indicate that many do not understand its mechanistic basis, natural selection. Botanical gardens and arboreta are typically not viewed as museums of natural history. Yet, these institutions house collections of living museum objects that can allow visitors to directly observe ongoing evolution, namely, mutations and
the origin of biological novelty, the astonishing amount of variation within species, and the consequences of selection that underlie descent with modification. When botanical gardens and arboreta are reconceptualized as museums of living, evolving objects, there will be huge opportunities to engage and educate the public about the process of evolution through the lens of horticulture and botany.