The Plant Collections Department acquires, documents, and studies all of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s permanent plants and their associated environments.
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 Bloom Cart displays cut flowers from the Garden along with a map of where they may be found. 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. What's In Bloom is a page on the Garden's website that is updated regularly so visitors know what plants are in bloom at any given time. 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 2.6 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.
The 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.
For 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 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.