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Plant Collections

The Plant Collections Department acquires, documents, and studies all of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s permanent plants and their associated environments.

PHOTO: the Garden's plant collections

A museum's major function is to collect and preserve objects. As a museum, the Chicago Botanic Garden is dedicated to building its permanent collections, which are its objects. Living collections at the Chicago Botanic Garden focus on plants from around the world that grow well in the Chicago area and are adapted to the local climate and soils.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has a major collection of more than 2.6 million plants consisting of 9,200 different kinds of plants (taxa). Plants are displayed in a landscaped manner, showing ways in which these plants may be incorporated into the public's own gardens, whether large public projects or smaller residential landscapes. New plants are acquired through commercial nurseries, other public gardens, plant breeding programs, and plant-collecting expeditions.

Living plant collections are important as reservoirs of plant material for study and research. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, the plant collections are used in the Garden's education program for certificates in ornamental plant materials, garden design, horticulture, photography, and botanical arts. Plants safely located in botanic garden collections become more and more important as populations of the plants in their native habitats become depleted. Researchers from other scientific institutions request plant material from the Garden for projects they are working on. The Garden's plant collections also form the beautiful landscape that attracts more than one million visitors to the Garden each year. 

Plant Exploration

Since 1984, Garden curators and scientists have made plant-collecting trips to the Republic of Georgia, Russia, South Korea, China, England and Wales, Hungary, Japan, Germany, the lower Piedmont area of the southeastern United States, southern Illinois, the Ozarks, and local areas, to acquire optimal germplasm.

Seeds and plants are accepted only if they are of documented wild origin and only if they have been collected and imported legally. Plants that have the potential for invasiveness, genetic pollution, or introducing pests or diseases are carefully screened or evaluated by the Plant Evaluation Program before acceptance.

Conservation and Study

In a multidisciplinary team environment, the Garden's professional staff work together to evaluate, plan, and conduct research that enhances the collections. In turn, the plant collections form the basis for educational programs, ranging from symposia to lectures, books to plant sales.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is one of 61 Plant Rescue Centers for the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Garden is a refuge for illegally imported plants and plants in violation of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Specialized Collections

In addition to the general collections, specialized collections offer depth and breadth within 11 selected genera. Specialized collections will become collections of distinction, recognized nationally and internationally.

Living Plant Documentation

As a museum, the Chicago Botanic Garden must keep accurate records about its plants (its objects). The Living Plant Documentation staff keeps track of the Garden's collections and also labels and maps the plants throughout the Garden.