Archives For documenting collections

This past summer, the Chicago Botanic Garden joined an intrepid team of plant collectors from four other American institutions on an expedition to the Republic of Georgia.

Our focus: to collect seeds to diversify the genetic diversity of ex-situ plant collections; to bring back and evaluate species for their ornamental potential; and to provide a hedge against natural and man-made disasters—all while building upon institutional collaborations developed during previous expeditions.

The PCC16-Georgia group poses at the Old Omalo Guest House in the Tusheti Region, Georgia.

The PCC16-Georgia group poses at the Old Omalo Guest House in the Tusheti Region, Georgia. From left to right: Joe Meny (US National Arboretum), Peter Zale (Longwood Gardens), Boyce Tankersley (Chicago Botanic Garden), Vince Marrocco (Morris Arboretum), Koba (owner of Old Omalo Guest House/Hotel Tusheti), Matt Lobdell (The Morton Arboretum), Temuri Siukaev (driver), Koba’s daughter, Constantine Zagareishvili (driver), Manana Khutsishvili (botanist), David Chelidze (botanist)

Map showing the location of the Republic of Georgia.

Just east of the Black Sea is the Republic of Georgia. Map courtesy worldatlas.

The Republic of Georgia was chosen because it is the only biodiversity hotspot that is situated within the temperate climatic zones.

Over millennia, the high peaks of the Greater Caucasus Mountains to the north, Lesser Caucasus Mountains to the south, and their inter-connecting mountain ranges situated between the Black Sea to the west and Caspian Sea to the east have provided a refuge for species that have gone extinct elsewhere due to glaciation and other climate extremes.

Tucked into hundreds of microclimates created by this varied topography, many of these endemic species (found nowhere else on earth) are perfectly hardy in American, Russian, and European gardens much farther north. 

Coordinating the trip on the Georgian side were our colleagues from the Institute of Botany, Tbilisi and Bakuriani Alpine Botanical Garden. They provided invaluable logistical support through the use of two of the foremost botanists in the region, drivers, vehicles, and places to stay.

The varied topography of the Tusheti Region.

The varied topography of the Tusheti Region.

Bakuriani Alpine Botanical Garden, Institute of Botany, and American collectors at Bakuriani Field Station.

Bakuriani Alpine Botanical Garden, Institute of Botany, and American collectors at Bakuriani Field Station

In a little more than two weeks in the field, the group traveled more than 1,100 miles from the high—and barely accessible—Greater Caucasus Mountains of the Tusheti region in northeastern Georgia, through the central valleys, to Lake Tabatskuri in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the south, between the Tetrobi Reserve and Bakuriani Alpine Botanical Garden.

The central valley separating the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges.

The central valley separating the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges

Lake Tabatskuri is situated between the Tetrobi Reserve and Bakuriani Alpine Botanical Garden; the Lesser Caucasus mountain peaks are in the distance.

Lake Tabatskuri is situated between the Tetrobi Reserve and Bakuriani Alpine Botanical Garden; the Lesser Caucasus mountain peaks are in the distance.

The geographic location of Georgia (Russia to the north, Central Asia to the east, Persia to the south and Asia Minor, the Middle East, and Europe to the west) has made this region a favorite transit point for merchants. Tucked into remote mountain valleys are small communities created from the descendants of Greeks, Germans, Hebrews, Persians, Armenians, Turks, Russians, Circassians, Huns, Mongols, and more, with remnants of each people’s own unique culinary, religious and linguistic traditions.

It was also, unfortunately, a thoroughfare for invading armies. Ancient fortifications, places of worship, homes—all show evidence of destruction and rebuilding.  

Samshvilde Fortress ruins.

Samshvilde Fortress ruins

Fortified towers are a typical feature of many homes in the Greater Caucasus mountains.

Fortified towers are a typical feature of many homes in the Greater Caucasus mountains.

Church of St. George.

Church of St. George

The collections wrapped up with a foray into western Georgia (ancient Colchis in Greek mythology) in and around Kutaisi, the legislative capital and its third largest city. A brief visit to the Kutaisi Botanical Garden was in order here, before we left the region. A highlight: a small shrine built inside a living 450-year-old oak. 

In all, 205 different seed lots and herbarium vouchers—representing 169 different species of trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs—were collected, including six of seven species of Quercus (oaks) in support of the IUCN Redlist of all of the Quercus in the world.

Religious shrine built inside a 450-year-old Quercus hartwissiana at Kutaisi Botanical Garden.

A religious shrine is built inside this 450-year-old Quercus hartwissiana at Kutaisi Botanical Garden.

What a haul! Seed collectors admire hundreds of seed collections to be cleaned.

What a haul! Admiring hundreds of seed collections to be cleaned are (left to right): Dr. Fritz, Dr. Tatyana Shulina (Garden consultant), Dr. Manana Khutsishvili (lead Georgian botanist) and Dr. Marina Eristavi (botanist on a former trip).

While we each came away with a fantastic collection of seed to propagate, this trip was about much more than collecting plants. Our journey’s end featured a meeting with representatives of institutions from America, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia all focused on expanding collaboration to match areas of expertise with areas of need—not only in the area of collections, but also horticulture, conservation science, education, and fundraising/collaborative grants.

The Caucasus Regional Meeting Participants pose on balcony at the of Institute of Botany. The ancient Narikala Fortress of Tbilisi is in the background.

The Caucasus Regional Meeting participants pose on balcony at the of Institute of Botany. The ancient Narikala Fortress of Tbilisi is in the background.

Left to right: Dr. Marine Eristavi, conservation scientist, National Botanical Garden of Georgia, Dr. Tinatin Barblishvili, deputy director, National Botanical Garden of Georgia, Dr. Lamara Aieshvili, curator of rare and endemic plants of Georgia ex situ collection, National Botanical Garden of Georgia, Vince Marrocco, horticulture director, Morris Arboretum, Dr. Manana Khutsishvili, botanist, Institute of Botany, Tbilisi, Dr. Peter Zale, curator and plant breeder at Longwood Gardens, Matt Lobdell curator of The Morton Arboretum, Dr. Fritz, Dr. Tatyana Shulkina, former curator of the living collections of the Soviet Union, Komarov Botanical Garden and currently Chicago Botanic Garden consultant, Dr. Rashad Selimov, head of education, Institute of Botany Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, Baku, Joe Meny from the US National Arboretum, Dr. Vahid Farzaliyev, National Botanical Garden Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, Baku, Boyce Tankersley director of living plant documentation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Dr. Shalva Sikharulidze, director of Institute of Botany, Georgia and Bakuriani Alpine Botanical Garden, Dr. George Fayvush, Department of Geo-botany Armenian Academy of Sciences, Yerevan, Dr. Zhirayr Vardanyan director of the Institute of Botany and National Botanical Garden Armenian Academy of Sciences Yerevan

What can we expect from our efforts? New blooms in the Garden! We have added quite a few plants to those brought back from Georgia on three previous trips:

Lilium monadelphum

Lilium monadelphum

Muscari armeniacum

Muscari armeniacum

Tulipa undulatifolia

Tulipa undulatifolia

Bellevalia makuensis

Bellevalia makuensis

Campanula lactiflora

Campanula lactiflora

Gentiana schistocalyx

Gentiana schistocalyx

Stachys macrantha

Stachys macrantha

Stokesia major

Stokesia major

Dianthus cretaceous

Dianthus cretaceous

Iris iberica ssp. Elegantissima

Iris iberica ssp. elegantissima

Verbascum pyramidatum

Verbascum pyramidatum

Colchicum trigyna

Colchicum trigyna

Stay tuned! Invitations have been received from institutions in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia for future plant collecting trips to the region. Likewise, scientists from these countries were invited to collect American native plants to increase the biodiversity of their ex-situ collections.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Botanic gardens are looking at the ways that zoos are trying to save threatened and exceptional species—including whooping cranes, black-footed ferrets, and giants pandas—to see if their approach could be adapted and used to help save rare plant species.  

Over the past year, the Chicago Botanic Garden has been working with the Brookfield Zoo, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, and other institutions to modify management tools developed for zoo living collections for botanic garden use.

Scientists and curators at botanic gardens and zoos both manage populations—of plants and animals, respectively—for conservation purposes. This type of conservation, outside the habitat of the plant or animal, is called “ex situ” (off site) conservation. There is a lot of similarity between the best practices for living collection management at zoos and botanic gardens, but to date, we have not often worked together to adapt tools developed for animals to plants and vice-versa.

This may be due, in part, to the fact that plant conservation relies heavily on seed banking. Storing seeds is an effective conservation method for most plant species, and avoids many of the problems associated with growing plants in the garden. (Living plants may be killed or injured by diseases and pests, may hybridize with other plants in the garden, and over several generations, may change genetically in ways that make them less suited for reintroduction.) However, many plant species are not well-suited for seed banking, either because their seeds are recalcitrant—they cannot be dried and frozen—or because some plants rarely produce seeds. Living collections offer an alternative conservation method for these “exceptional” species.

PHOTO: Conservation scientist Dr. Andrea Kramer hand-pollinates a Brighamia insignis specimen.

Conservation scientist Dr. Andrea Kramer hand-pollinates a Brighamia insignis specimen.

In this recent paper in the American Journal of Botany, we describe an approach that botanic gardens could adopt to improve their management of rare plant species—based on the “studbook” approach zoos use for animals. We hope to test this approach in two rare plants next year: Quercus oglethorpensis (Ogelthorpe oak—found only in the southeastern United States), and Brighamia insignis (Ālula—found only on Kauai in Hawaii).

PHOTO: Quercus oglethorpensis.

Quercus oglethorpensis
Photo ©2015, Virginia Tech Dept. of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation

PHOTO: Brighamia insignis.

Brighamia insignis

It is clear that zoos and botanic gardens have much to learn from each other, and we hope to work more with our zoo counterparts in the future.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org