Chicago Botanic Garden


Living Plant Documentation

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


PHOTO: maps, garden highlights, plant labels

By definition, a botanic garden is a documented collection of living plants. Plant records form the backbone of the educational and scientific programs at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The records created by the Living Plant Documentation Department are important to visitors, students, gardeners, researchers, and scientists. The visitor experience is improved by the Bloom Cart, labels, and maps; the student and educator experience is improved with inventories, maps, and labels; the gardener's experience is improved with What's In Bloom and labels; and researchers' and scientists' experiences are improved with inventories, labels, maps, herbarium vouchers, DNA samples, and digital images. Within the Garden, they also support the use of the collections for breeding, conservation and ecological research, and plant evaluation.


A database of more than 2.4 million accessioned plants in the permanent collection contains information on each plant’s scientific name, common name, plant family, growth habit, origin, location, and ornamental characteristics. Staff work throughout the year to keep this information updated and accurate. The term "accessioned" refers to plants that have been included in the permanent collections of the Garden. In contrast, "seasonal" plants refer to annuals, vegetables, and other plants used in temporary displays; while these plants are labeled, they are not accessioned into the permanent collections. The Garden’s records, which date back to 1972, have been computerized since 1985.

Search Our Plant Collections Database


ILLUSTRATION: plant bed mapThe value of the location of a plant is paramount to effectively managing and protecting the plant collections. The Living Plant Documentation department maps the locations of all permanent woody plants and many of the perennial plants in 1,662 garden beds at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The information is gathered using state-of-the-art laser survey equipment (Total Station), and the maps are created and published using ArcGIS software from Environmental Sciences Research Institute. Specialized maps are generated to support species verification, for planning the growth and expansion of garden facilities, and for educational purposes.

See a map here.

Plant labels

PHOTO: plant label in the GardenFor visitors, curators, visiting scientists, students, and educators, the Chicago Botanic Garden provides labels that identify the plant by scientific name, common name, plant family, native origin, or cultivar name. Silver lettered with a black background metal labels are provided for permanent plants; permanent woody plants also have a brown embossed accession tag. Silver lettered on black background plastic labels are provided for seasonal plants.


At all all times of the year, lists of What's In Bloom are readily available on this website. These lists, as well as maps identifying plant locations, are also available at the Plant Information Desk in the Visitor Center and on the Local Area Network for staff and volunteers. During the growing season, specimens of plants in flower are highlighted outside the Visitor Center on the Bloom Cart to assist visitors to plan their visit.

The department has taken a leadership role to make information stored in plant records databases available through the internet. These efforts are currently focused on an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) national leadership grant in the Building Digital Resources category entitled "PlantCollections™ – A Community Solution." The significant funding provided by IMLS, $666,326, is matched with an equal value of staff time from the three primary partners and 15 participating botanic gardens and arboreta. The American Public Gardens Association and University of Kansas Biodiversity Research Center and Natural History Museum joined Chicago Botanic Garden as primary partners in this effort. Fifteen members of the North American Plant Collections Consortium joined the project. They are: Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Ganna Walska Lotusland, Highstead Arboretum, Huntington Library, Museum and Botanic Garden, Landis Arboretum, Missouri Botanical Garden, The Morton Arboretum, Mt. Cuba Center, Inc., Norfolk Botanical Garden, The North Carolina Arboretum, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, United States National Arboretum, and the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. This project utilizes distributed queries to extract the information from the plant records databases, collate it into a single document, and provide the information through a portal on the internet. Images and maps will be available in addition to files that can be downloaded to computers.

Click here for more information on PlantCollections™ — A Community Solution.