Inaugural blog posts are like starting a new diary. We swear that we will make entries every day only to find the diary ten years later with a few pages filled in…the Internet is littered with various blogs I have started! But there is so much to talk about at the UC Botanical Garden that I am sure we can continue this mode of communicating with our friends old and new.

Mediterranean section in bloom

The two most common reactions that I get from people when I tell them I am the Garden’s Director are: “I love that place!” and “I drive by there all the time and never have gone in.” So for those in the former camp, many thanks, and for those who drive by, I hope you will be enticed to stop in. I remember the first time I walked through the Garden’s front gate and thought immediately about the point in the Wizard of Oz when the movie goes from black and white to Technicolor. For anyone reading this who has not crossed that threshold, please give it a try.

The beauty of UCBG as a garden is immediate and evident. It is a jewel of this community and the region. However, I have learned that its impact and significance extend far beyond the bay area, and that it is in fact an exemplary and unique (and I am very leery of using that word) garden in the country and indeed the world. My first hint at this came from a note from Peter Raven, the emeritus Director of one of the world’s largest and most distinguished gardens, the Missouri Botanical Garden. He wrote:

“UCB is the very best botanical garden in the world in terms of providing plant material to those who’d like to do research on the plants held there. I’ve always considered this an absolutely essential part of the functioning of gardens, and you do it exactly right.”

South Africa hill in bloom during spring

Further investigation into the collection revealed (to me) that there is much else that distinguishes this Garden from other botanical gardens. For example, the Garden’s plants form among the most diverse collection of plants in the United States (actually the Huntington in LA has more different plants, but it is 10 times our size.) I have been doing some research, and asking my colleagues on campus to review my findings, and I believe it is fair to say that the Garden has more plant diversity on its 34 acres than any other comparably sized piece of land in the world. The closest competitor is a section of the lowland rain forest in Ecuador.

This diversity is set apart from any other botanical garden that I’ve been able to discover because about 70% of our plants are collected in the wild and they have what museums call “provenance.” This means that we know where and when the plants were collected, and usually by whom. This documentation makes the plants uniquely valuable for plant scientists of all stripes, and this is why Dr. Raven called the Garden “the very best in the world” for research.

In the short time I have been here, we have had official delegations from Chile, China, Spain, Morocco, India, Mexico, and others to share research, knowledge, and experience, and I hope eventually share plant material.

So, with this post, I want to open the door not only to the beauty of the Garden and its value to the community, but its global significance as a collection. Please visit often and drop me a note if you have any questions or ideas at etsiegel@berkeley.edu.

© 2015 UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
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