Chicago Botanic Garden


Plant Collections

Why are plant collections so important?


At the heart of every museum are its collections. Living plants are the Chicago Botanic Garden's primary collection, its foundation, its reason for existence. Successful plant collections like the Garden's, possessing breadth, depth, and museum-quality documentation, offer opportunities for scientific research and education for the public and professionals.

The Garden's 2.4 million plants representing 9,084 taxa also form a beautiful environment. They are displayed in landscape settings across 385 acres. One-third of the site consists of horticultural displays, another third comprises natural areas, and the remaining third is lakes and facilities.

Did you know?

Human life depends on plants. People use plants for food, medicine, clothing, shelter, and oxygen. The Garden's plant collections reflect the multifaceted importance of plants.

The Midwest has challenging growing conditions, with temperatures ranging from 104 degrees F. to minus 27 degrees F. and little snow cover to insulate against winter cold. Garden collections are representative of plants found in an analogous climatic band around the world.

Garden soils in Illinois today present a challenge, as they are often disturbed and compacted, have a high clay content, and are alkaline, with an average pH of 7.5. The Garden exhibits the most appropriate horticultural plants and native plant communities to use under these conditions.

At a time when plant diversity is waning, the Garden has one of the fastest-expanding plant collections in the world. The collections strive to emphasize diversity not only to ensure comprehensiveness but also to maintain valuable genetic material for scientific research.

The Plant Collections Department acquires, documents, conserves, and studies plants and their native environments. Research results are disseminated through lectures, symposia, and publications. Acquiring genetically superior plants for the midwestern United States and coordinating the scope of the plant collections throughout the Garden’s displays and educational programs are a primary focus of the Plant Collections Department.