The Tropical Garden, Fall 2010

By Stephanie Bott, Photos by Volunteer Department Staff/FTBG (as originally published)

Armed with detailed garden plot maps, plant lists and replacement plant labels, Plant Records volunteers Ken Barrus, Jack Broman, Margaret Dunn, Nancy Fehr, Andy Laroche and Carole Merten venture out weekly to helpFairchild’s Plant Recorder Marilyn Griffiths with the enormous and important task of maintaining data on all accessioned plants in the garden’s collection. Plant records are essential to Fairchild, as they are to all botanic gardens, which are defined by their documented collections of plants. When a plant is added to Fairchild’s collection, it is assigned an accession number and all relevant information about the plant, including its scientific name, plant family and origin, is recorded. Working quietly behind the scenes, the Plant Records volunteers play an extremely important role as their observations about our plant collections help to tell the ongoing stories of every Fairchild plant.

Plant Records volunteers begin a typical inventory of a garden plot by using an enlarged plot map divided into grids. Then they systematically move through the plot searching for each recorded plant. Plant locations are confirmed, missing plants or labels are recorded and plant conditions and interesting details are described. Andy Laroche explains, “We are looking at each plant to see if it is alive and healthy and if there are any seeds, cones or flowers. We make sure that each plant has the proper stake or trunk label with the correct identification. And, of course, we try to make sure the labels are placed so they can be readily seen by visitors.”

Volunteers also have the sometimes arduous task of hunting for plant labels, which frequently disappear under burgeoning plants, are misplaced to nearby plants or are mistakenly removed when certain plants go dormant during the winter. Plant Records volunteers are thus problem solvers and researchers all in one, constantly making decisions to ensure the accuracy of each plant’s information. By the end of each year, volunteers will have surveyed the entire garden’s plant collections.

Although they are always adding new information to the records, the Plant Records volunteers are part of an important historical legacy. David Fairchild himself kept detailed records of the plants he observed on his frequent explorations around the world as well as of plants that would become part of the garden’s collection. In the May, 1945 Fairchild Tropical Garden Bulletin, Dr. Fairchild discussed both the difficulty and the importance of proper plant identification: “We hope we may succeed in attaching to the trees and palms of this garden labels which will help thousands of visitors more easily to learn their names and enjoy their history as well as their beauty.” Thanks to Fairchild’s Plant Records volunteers, the important work of documenting the stories of all Fairchild plants will be available for future generations. Thank you Plant Records volunteers, and keep up the good work!