Visitors flocked to the Chicago Botanic Garden over the recent holiday weekend, burying their noses in aromatic blooms, snapping selfies in front of picturesque waterfalls and sculptures, and filing away ideas for DIY home landscaping projects.
That’s the front-facing side of the garden’s mission. Behind the scenes, a team of research scientists is focused on saving the planet’s plants from a quickening pace of extinction.
This less publicized aspect of the garden’s work is about to experience a growth spurt.
A newly announced gift of $21 million from the Negaunee Foundation — the largest gift in the garden’s history — will advance the garden’s conservation and eco-restoration efforts on a scale not previously possible.
“I think among the staff here, there was both joy and relief,” said Kayri Havens, chief scientist and Negaunee vice president of science.
Relief, she explained, because “it makes our work much more secure” in the current volatile economy, and joy “that we can tackle some new challenges and step up our game.”
Given that plants make up 60% of the endangered species list but only receive 3% of the funding — “a miserable state of affairs,” Havens said — the significance of the Negaunee gift takes on added significance.
Among the projects that will benefit from the infusion of funds is the garden’s contribution to the groundbreaking development of plant “studbooks,” a term some people might more readily associate with horse farms.