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Although there is no definitive definition of what constitutes a botanical garden or botanic garden, the following has widespread support: "A botanic garden is an institution holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education." While their origins lie in medieval physic gardens, modern botanic gardens are increasingly important in conservation as well as research. Most also entertain and educate the public, upon whom they often depend for funding.


The terms botanical garden and botanic garden are used more-or-less interchangeably in English (and in both cases, "gardens" may be used instead of "garden"). The oldest botanical gardens in English-speaking countries generally use the term 'botanic' in their titles: for example, the University of Oxford Botanic Gardenmarker in the UK (founded in 1621); the United States Botanic Gardenmarker, Washington, D.C. (founded in 1816); or the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydneymarker (also founded in 1816). A botanical garden containing mainly trees is generally called an arboretum.

According to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), because there is no clear definition of a "botanical" garden, there is no absolute boundary between public parks, private collections and "true scientifically based botanic gardens." Narrower definitions of a botanical garden focus on scientific research and education; for example, BGCI claims that the following definition "encompasses the spirit of a true botanic garden":

A botanic garden is an institution holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education.

Botanical gardens fully meeting this definition are typically run by universities or other scientific research organizations. They are likely to have associated herbaria and have research programmes in plant taxonomy.

The presence or absence of the word 'botanical' in the title of a garden does not necessarily relate to BGCI's preferred definition. Thus although the Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardenmarker in the UK is included in a guide to the botanical gardens of Britain, it is run by Manchester City Council and has no associated scientific research. Conversely, the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, founded in 1940, changed its name to the American Public Gardens Association in 2006, although its members remain involved in scientific and conservation activities.


Botanical gardens, in the modern sense, developed from physic gardens, whose main purpose was to grow herbs for medicinal application. Such gardens have a long history. In Europe, for example, Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) is said to have had a physic garden, which was inherited by his pupil Theophrastus, although this is disputed by some.

Early mediaeval Islamic Spain had gardens which have been called 'botanical', e.g. Ibn Wafid's garden at Toledo, Seville, in the 11th century. It has been suggested that the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica influenced the history of botanical gardens. Gardens in Tenochtitlan and Nezahualcoyotlmarker greatly impressed the invaders, and the Aztecs knew many more medicinal plants than did the classical world of Europe.

If a botanical garden is defined by a scientific or academic connection, then the first true botanical gardens were founded in Northern Italymarker in connection with universities.

Although the dates given above are generally accepted, precisely dating the origin of a botanical garden is often problematic. Government decrees may be issued some time before land is acquired and planting begins; thus the Jardin des Plantesmarker in Paris was founded by an edict of 1626, but the edict allowing planting was not issued until 1635. Previously existing gardens may be taken over and converted; thus there was a garden at Kewmarker in the 17th century, although the generally accepted date for it becoming a botanic garden is 1759 in the following century.. Finally, the institution may be moved from one site to another, in which case the question arises of whether it is the same garden; thus the garden at Pisamarker moved to its current site in 1591.

Other European towns and universities followed the Italian example throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Initially these gardens were largely medical in orientation.

With increasing exploration and the foundation of overseas empires by many European countries, the nature of botanical gardens changed. Expeditions brought back plants from all over the world, which needed to be documented for scientific purposes and, where possible, cultivated for commerce. Tropical crops could not be cultivated in Europe itself, and so botanical gardens were created overseas. Some notable gardens founded in the 18th century with this colonial connection are:

From the 19th century onwards, public gardens were created throughout the world. Many of them were mainly for amenity purposes, although true botanic gardens continued to be established (e.g. Missouri Botanical Gardenmarker in 1859). , BGCI lists some 1,800 botanic gardens in almost 150 countries.

Image:Missouri_Botanical_Garden_-_Seiwa-en.JPG|Seiwa-en Japanese Garden, Missouri Botanical Gardenmarker, USAImage:Kew_Palm_House.JPG|Inside Kew Gardensmarker Palm House, EnglandImage:Curitiba - 2.jpg|The Botanical Garden of Curitibamarker, Southern BrazilImage:Ducks danielaucoin nb botanicalgarden.jpg|The New Brunswick Botanical Gardenmarker, CanadaImage:Aswan, Kitchener's Island, palm alley, Egypt, Oct 2004.jpg|A botanical garden of Kitchener's Islandmarker, Aswan, EgyptImage:UBC Botanical Garden water.jpg|University of British Columbia Botanical Gardenmarker, CanadaImage:Jardim Botânico de Coimbra2.jpg|Inside the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbramarker, PortugalImage:Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens 01.jpg|Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydneymarker, AustraliaImage:Leubotanicalgardens.jpg| The Harry P.marker Leu Gardensmarker in Orlando, Florida, USAImage:Palmhouse.jpg|Palmhouse, Royal Botanic Gardensmarker, Edinburgh, ScotlandImage:Botanical_Lake_by_Latika_Das.jpg|Lake in Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Gardenmarker, near Calcutta, IndiaImage:Kirstenbosch_-_View_from_the_Botanical_Gardens.jpg|Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardenmarker, South Africa



From the late 18th century onward, European botanical gardens sent plant-collecting expeditions to various parts of the world and published their findings. Voyages of exploration routinely included botanists for this purpose. Subsequent scientific work studied how these exotic plants might be adapted to grow in the garden's locale, how to classify them, and how to propagate rare or endangered species. The Royal Botanic Gardensmarker in Kew, near London, has continuously published journals and more recently catalogues and databases since this time.




Educational projects at botanical gardens range from introductions to plants that thrive in different environments to practical advice for the home gardener. Many have plant shops, selling flower, herb, and vegetable seedlings suitable for transplantation. Some gardens such as the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Researchmarker and the Chicago Botanic Gardenmarker have plant breeding programs and introduce new plants to the horticultural trade.

See also


  1. See for example the lists of botanical gardens in the US or the UK.
  2. , quoted in
  3. The official website ( ) gives the starting date of the first responsible offical as 1753; most sources, including the Wikipedia page, prefer 1770, under the Director P. Poivre.


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