Friday, May 27, 2011

Say Cheese!!

Or...if you're staying with us here at Kona Kai, "Say Keys!!" works even better and no doubt makes your smile a little bigger and brighter with the reminder that you are really, truly, actually here, in our little slice of paradise.

Photographic documentation of plant collections is a very nice asset for a botanic garden.  These pictures not only serve as memories, but as horticultural and botanical resources as well, providing a visual history of the gardens and documentation of their development.  For specific plants, along with inventory (taking measurements of the plants and evaluating their condition), photographs allow others to see exactly what the evaluator saw and make their own observations and judgments of the condition of a plant.  In addition, notes like, "serrated leaves, small red flowers and oblong purple fruit" don't provide too much detail, so pictures provide a great supplement to descriptions, especially when one does not know all the correct botanical terminology to adequately and accurately describe the plant.  Below is an example of flowers from Phoenix roebelenii (pygmy date palm) that might be hard to adequately describe:

Pictures are also useful when it comes to diseases, pests, or nutrient deficiency.  If one does not have an extensive knowledge of these subjects, it is difficult to make guesses during inventory as to what might be wrong with a plant.  It's not very helpful to have generic notes that say, "yellow spots on leaves" or "some type of bug infestation."  Pictures are useful in that they provide a ready reference for follow-up in the office with either print or electronic resources to help determine exactly what the condition is and the appropriate remedial action to take.  Here's an example of a condition on a frond of Thrinax morrisii (Key thatch palm) that might be difficult to accurately guess the cause of and/or describe in words:

Another benefit of photographic documentation is convenience.  Perhaps you need to double-check the identity of one of your plants but it only flowers/fruits once a year for a short period of time.  If you know which parts of the plant are important to photograph and what notes to take along with them (i.e. notes on dimensions, flower and fruit characteristics, etc.), you can evaluate the identity of a plant from the office at any time of the year.  This is especially helpful, too, since many plants cannot be found with both flowers and mature fruit available to analyze at the same time.  I was lucky enough to catch some of our female Zamia integrifolia (coontie) coning:

Photographs can be used to track the growth of individual plants when taken at regular intervals, depending upon the growth rate of the plant.  It's almost like having a collection of pictures of yourself from when you were a baby all the way to your current age.  These pictures are a nice supplement to measurements taken during inventory.  Having only your height and weight each year of your life certainly leaves out a lot of details that pictures are able to capture, and I feel the same way about plants; height, canopy spread and diameter measurements only paint a very generic picture of a given plant.  We've begun tracking the growth of shoots of our breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) with photographs after it died back to the ground during a cold snap this past winter:

It is imperative that an organized cataloguing system is developed for the plant pictures.  BG-Base helps us with this by providing a way for pictures to be associated with specific records in the Gardens' database.  I also make sure that each picture is labeled with the date it was taken, scientific name of the plant and its accession number.  Without knowing this information, the pictures lose value.  It would be much like having an art gallery with little or nothing known for certain about each work.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Often words are not sufficient to adequately describe everything of note about a plant and it is more helpful, efficient and accurate to take pictures in addition to describing and measuring the plant.  A well-documented and organized collection of photographs provides an important objective perspective of the collections and also make our records more interesting and valuable.

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

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