Saturday, November 19, 2011

Plant Inventory Finished and Records Labels Arrive!

During the past month, I have been working on completing a thorough inventory of all the plants we have on the grounds.  As a museum with living collections, a botanic garden needs to not only record information about a plant upon its arrival but also continually evaluate the plant over time.  This is valuable not only because it allows us to know the current state of any of the plants in our collections, but also because we develop a history for each plant.  To give you an idea about what inventory entails, here is an example of a (completed) sheet I carry around with me to record information.  These sheets are created directly from our plant records database, BG-Base:

Once all the information is collected, I need to enter it into BG-Base, primarily into the "Plants" table of BG-Base.  Below are examples of some of the screens I work with when completing data entry:

^Location, number of plants, condition, flowering/fruiting stage and other notes go into this window of the Plants table.

^How complex the BG-Base window can get if I'm making edits across tables and performing queries, and yes, it's running on a Mac : )

BG-Base is a "relational" database, which means that there are many tables tied together so that data from one table can be displayed in fields of another.  While this is cool, it sure makes for a lot of work in terms of data entry and making sure the integrity of all the connections between tables are maintained whenever edits are made.  A large computer screen is definitely a BIG help.

On a related note, our records labels have finally arrived!  Records labels are a great help when it comes to keeping accurate track of the plants in our collections.  Each plant or mass of plants is a unique entity with all its information in our database, so it is crucial to accurately maintain this link, which is similar to the link our social security numbers provide from ourselves to information about us.  In both cases, if that link gets broken, it's bad news - the former being clearly far more serious a matter.  Our records labels include each plant's scientific Latin name, source, and accession number + qualifier - its "social security number."  This number allows me to double-check that the plant I'm looking at is the plant on my sheet I want to inventory and also acts as a key to access all the data we have for a given plant.  The labels are primarily useful to our Gardens' staff but horticulturists, botanists, serious gardeners and curious guests will all find them useful if they want to know more about a specific plant.  Here are a couple pictures of the glimmering labels (563 in total).  You can see parts of the stakes the labels are attached to in the second photo; they resemble a key chain ring attached to the top of a 6-inch metal stake.

Awesome, right?  Our table in the office reminded me of a drug-bust table with the lines and lines of these records labels I have out to be placed.  If plant labels ever became illegal, the authorities would certainly be able to put together an impressive presentation of all the labels they find after busting our notorious botanic garden operation.  I'll have to work on my buffness, though, if I'm to play the part of the bad dude behind the table with armed guards on either side.  With hopes that plant labels maintain legal status for the foreseeable future, I will be placing these labels by their corresponding plants over the next couple weeks - another big milestone in progress for our Botanic Gardens.

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nursery Visits And Tigers In Your Neighborhood

If you could plan out an ideal location for a botanic garden, you would no doubt place it near a major conglomerate of plant nurseries.  Fortunately for us, we are just 30-45 minutes from such an area: Homestead, FL.  Although I had been told Homestead has a lot of nurseries, I had not been up to see for myself.  So last week, I decided to take a trip up with Veronika, our grounds manager, to get to know the area a bit better.  I also hoped to better grasp the offerings of some of the nurseries we had been purchasing from in the past, which would come in handy as we continue to enhance our ethnobotanical collections with new plants.  We accomplished what we set out to do and more; it was a great trip.  Meeting many of the individuals who run the nurseries and grow the plants was an especially big plus and helps us to build important relationships with growers.  Veronika has been to Homestead a number of times to pick up plants, so it was great to have her along to guide me through the maze of nurseries in the area.  You can get an idea of the coverage of nurseries in the area (esp. northern Homestead) from the dark green colors (from lots of plants and shade cloth) in the Google Maps image below:

As Veronika put it, Homestead is an area where you find "nursery on top of nursery on top of nursery."  It is indeed quite overwhelming.  Fortunately, as can be seen from the image, streets in the majority of Homestead nursery territory are conveniently laid out in a grid-like orientation.  The streets are numbered to correspond with how far north, south, east or west you are, so you can get general bearings pretty easily, although having a GPS unit along for the ride was a great help.  In this area, giving directions using landmarks can be quite ineffective due to the area's homogeneity and lack of topography: "So you'll take a left on this road and you'll go a few miles 'til you see this big nursery on your, no, no wait....ok so there will be this group of tall palm trees....uh,'s just after this big field with, you guys have a GPS??"

Each nursery has its own character, size and specialty.  We visited an extremely large operation selling orchids and bromeliads by the crate with a minimum purchase of $250 and a feeling more of a factory than a nursery.  On the other end of the spectrum lies a nursery we visited that specializes in succulents and cacti, seeming to only have one employee, the owner, on not much more than an acre of land where service is about as personalized as you can get.  Along the way we found plenty of places in between, most of which employed very cordial staff who were more than happy to show us around or offer us a golf cart to tour the property ourselves.  Even though golf carts provide a very effective method of transportation around nurseries, it was strange for me to see them buzzing in and out of the nursery rows, having spent lots of time in golf carts where they "belong" (on golf courses), where I both played and worked for a number of my younger years.  They were out of their native habitat, ecologically speaking, and I felt, well....maybe kind of like how you'd feel if you were to see tigers roaming around your neighborhood...minus the whole fear-of-being-eaten part.

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director