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Documenting Living Collections: A Study of Curatorial Practices, Challenges, and Solutions for Historic Botanic Gardens

Botanic gardens are living museums, offering opportunities for conservation and research as well as education, experience, and enjoyment through their plant collections. A garden’s plant records system is as vital as the plants themselves, and serves as a framework for the preservation of information, the care of the collections, and access and use of information about the collections.

While standards for best practices exist, curatorial approaches to the establishment and maintenance of plant records vary among institutions. There is an expressed need in the field for more resources on the documentation of living collections, especially for smaller and emerging gardens. This exploratory study investigated and described current plant records practices, challenges, and solutions at a unique subset of gardens in the United States. Preservation gardens—historic landscapes that have transitioned from private to public gardens—often include rare plants, heritage cultivars, and unique germplasm that may not be represented elsewhere in cultivation or the wild, offering untapped potential for research and conservation.