Botanical gardens acquire their most exceptional plants on plant gathering excursions in the wild, often acquiring the plants for which they are known internationally. However, these harvests must be carried out in compliance with current national and international laws and regulations. These include laws concerning endangered species and phytosanitary regulations in different countries, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Biological Diversity, etc. These laws and regulations aim to protect the world’s biological resources in order to ensure their sustainability.
Why are plants from the wild – for which harvesting data has been collected – so important?
- Species vary across their distribution area. Knowing the exact origin of plant material is essential to scientific research.
- The same genetic variability must be well represented in any ex situ (growing wild plants outside their natural environment) conservation program. A plant’s origin must be known to determine if this variability has been preserved in cultivation. In the absence of harvesting data, the conservation value of a collection is greatly reduced.
- The integrity of cultivated material may have been compromised over time, whether from labelling errors or improper multiplication (a risk of seedling hybridization, for example). Material that comes directly from its natural environment conserves its integrity.
Excursions to exotic countries
Although the days of the great explorers are behind us, botanical exploration remains an important activity today. At a time when natural habitats are disappearing at a frenetic pace, it is urgent to catalogue the planet’s richest and most diverse sites in order to preserve them. Many plants, especially in tropical zones, are little known and have not been inventoried. Furthermore, this immense pool of biodiversity is full of genetic and biochemical resources that are essential to many scientific activities, from improving agricultural cultivation to discovering new medicine.
Here are some examples of excursions to exotic countries by the Garden’s botanists:
- From 1939 to 1944, Brother Marie-Victorin explored Cuba with Brother Léon, a botanist friend on a mission in the region. These explorations made it possible for Marie-Victorin to integrate more than 500 plants and more than 3,000 herbarium displays into the collections of the Garden and the Institut Botanique de l'Université de Montréal. They also led to the publication of several books, including botanical itineraries of Cuba, written by Brothers Marie-Victorin and Léon, and the “Plants of Cuba” published by Brother Leon in collaboration with Brother Alain.
- Henry Teuscher, the first curator of the Garden, played a major role in the expansion of the orchid collection from the 1950s to the 1970s, thanks to his explorations of South America and that of his collaborators, C. Horich in Costa Rica and J. Strobel in Ecuador. Studying the specimens they brought back made it possible for Teuscher to write a number of articles that contributed to his renown in the world of orchids.
- Thanks to botanist Denis Barabé, the Garden has an impressive collection of Araceae from natural environments. From 1984 to 2008, more than 450 plants from Africa and French Guiana were cultivated in the Garden’s greenhouses. These specimens were used for important research about this family, particularly the evolution of flower characteristics and flower head thermogenisis (heat production).
Based on an article by Denis Barabé and Édith Morin in Quatre-Temps magazine, 17(1), pp.55-58.