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Message from the Curator -- Winter 2020

Bringing even more plants to the people of Minnesota!

The grand opening of the new College of Biological Sciences Conservatory & Botanical Collection is getting closer and we can’t wait to share this amazing new space with you. I hope you will join us on March 21 for tours, plant-based activities, research talks and more. You’ll find details here.

After successfully securing state funding for part of construction, we broke ground on our new facility in 2018. Fast forward to today and we are poised to welcome visitors to the newly named Conservatory & Botanical Collection. 

The new space will house more than 1,800 plant species including many rare and endangered plants. Recent estimates place 20 percent of the world’s plant species currently threatened with extinction. We don’t know what plants are going to be most important for future ecosystems, or which might harbor genes could be useful for agricultural production in future environments. As University collections contribute to education and outreach promoting conservation, preservation of diversity is particularly important in this time of rapid global change. 

Our goal is to make this a place where people come to understand the critical role plants play in our lives. Our mission is to cultivate plants from around the world with the intent to inspire, educate, and advance research and conservation. 

To that end, the plants featured in the Conservatory’s biome rooms are not often highlighted in United States botanical gardens. They represent habitats with incredible plant diversity and little known floristic regions with dire need of conservation. These plantings have interwoven educational narratives with unique bio-geographies and evolutionary themes. The new biomes include:

  • Antarctic Forest features plants that thrive in cool, moist environments. The plants in this biome will one day grow into a mossy, wet dark forest with plants from Chile, Tasmania, and New Zealand. This flora is the most dramatic remnant of life on the ancient Supercontinent Gondwanaland is threatened by the warming environment.

  • Ancient Rainforest, a warm, humid environment features plants native to the island of New Caledonia off the coast of Australia, which boasts not only endemic species, but relic lineages that once dominated vegetation across the globe but are now largely restricted to the island, describing flowering plant evolution. 

  • Mediterranean Scrubland characterized by hot, dry summers and cool rainy winters that produce species-rich flora such as the fynbos of the Western Cape of South Africa and the kwongan of southwestern Australia. These winter growers will be blooming when classes are in session and people would rather be indoors. 

  • Diverse Deserts feature plants that thrive in hot, dry conditions and depict the ecological concept of convergent evolution where similar traits evolve in unrelated plants typically. Our desert highlights succulent plants and sparse, thorny vegetation from arid Brazil, the Horn of Africa, and the island of Socotra.

But words can’t describe the experience of moving through these environments and seeing the incredible diversity of flora, which is why I hope to see you in March as we welcome a new era for plant science at the University of Minnesota!

January, 2020