The lost mission of Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens’s has an untapped social and environmental potential in the development of green urban spaces, climate change adaptation and health promotion. As society we can use that in our aim reaching resilient communities. But what about the mission?

The need for development of the “raison d’etre” of Botanical Gardens is on the rise and it can observed by watching from the ‘outside’. A new reality within climate, urbanization and challenges in health means that the knowledge Botanical Garden’s posses is in demand.

Two weeks ago I was at the Botanical Garden in Copenhagen. The beautiful Palm House is an oasis, a time warp with life and bloom. The garden and the greenhouses are my favorite places in Copenhagen. With its ideal location, as most other Botanical Gardens in the world, an important dissemination point in the middle of the city. Both tourists and locals enjoy walking through a live collection of Plants and the garden’s recreational value. But can a Botanical Garden exist on the basis that be recreational? Could Botanical Gardens be major participants in the contemporary adaptation society?

A lot of Botanical Gardens are uncertain on what role they have or could have besides the recreational and conservational element. What is relevant to the society is not allways documented in the evaluation and research of Botanical Gardens. Conserving plant diversity is the main role but even though they are required to conserve biological diversity, high levels of social diversity is not always reflected among their audience (Mostly middle age women).

The purpose of Botanical Gardens

In relation to the Convention of Biodiversity (the Rio de Janeiro Convention) it is mandatory of Botanical Gardens of today to promote knowledge on plant diversity and the need for preserving plants and seeds (conservation). The question is if this role is adequate in relation to the challenges of society; adjusting to climate changes, urbanization and promotion of public health.

The taxonomy research which has been the common ground of many Botanical Gardens is to a large extent independent of the plants growing in those gardens and instead connected to herbariums and molecular biological units. A large part of the botanical research has changed from the plant itself to parts of it.

Increasing difference between activity and demand
Progress has created an increase in distance to the origin of the Botanical Gardens: Research within the medicinal function of plants. At the same time the world has changed radically and new demands for a sustainable change in society/cities “has come to surface”.
Through the long history of Botanical Gardens it has seldom been nescessary to rethink its role or mission statement – it is reflected in the organizational structures and research areas.

The time has come to question what direction Botanical Gardens should choose to develop itself? and why they should even exist?

Related to the key role in citizens’ awareness and the typical urban central location, Botanical Gardens work is strictly limited to “behind the garden fence”. The question is whether Botanical Gardens structure and operation, in fact, helps to limit the dissemination of knowledge instead of spreading knowledge about issues such as biodiversity, plant knowledge, etc.

Only every fifth Dane knows what biodiversity means and why it is important.

Status and position in society
Botanical Gardens posses a special position with a unique status as a historic knowledge institution. With a central location in the city (in most cities as a part of historic districts), key position of plant science (in association with universities, scientific institutions) and educational and communicative obligations (museum/university).

This juxtaposition of status and positions and in relation to the global transition agenda, provides an opportunity for me to say that Botanical Gardens is having an untapped innovation potential:

My idea is that a new holistic and practice-based learning about plants and biodiversity will stimulate a deeper understanding of the importance of relationship and connections between plants/people and food/habitat.

Let’s redefine the mission of Botanical Gardens to recreate knowledge about plants and their use in our society. Let’s develop the real potential!