Interim Administrative Director & Conservatory Manager
Interim Asst. Director
Friends of the Botanic Garden of
College Advisory Committee
Noriko Sato '88, Co-Chair
Rebecca D. Truelove '91, Co-Chair
Lisa Morrison Baird '76
Sarah Szold Boasberg '58
Sarah K. Chase '90
Paula V. Cortes '70
Alex Metaksa Daugherty '86
Nancy Watkins Denig '68
Sydney Webber Eddison '54
Lynden Miller '60
Pamela Sheeley Niner '63
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander '44
Constance Parks '83
Catha Grace Rambusch '58
Shavaun Towers '71
Ruth J. Simmons,
President of Smith College
Susan Komroff Cohen '62
Paula Deitz '59
Botanic Garden News
Editor and Designer: Madelaine Zadik
Editorial Assistants: Constance Parks
Botanic Garden Logo designed by
Margaret P. Holden
In the rollicking novel by E. Annie Proulx, the protagonist Quoyle writes a column for a maritime newspaper, detailing the comings and goings of ships in the harbor of Killick-Claw, Nova Scotia. I thought we would offer our own version of The Shipping News to give the Friends a sense of what a busy harbor we tend.
Unlike zoos or art museums, botanical gardens have collections that are readily distributed to scholars, scientists, and gardeners around the world. We can easily collect and ship seed and spores, cuttings or scionwood, or seedlings or bulbs.
Botanical gardens exchange lists of seed called indices semina (singular: index seminum), and there is a constant flow of germplasm through the mail between gardens. Seed may come from plants within the gardens' collections or be harvested from nearby wild areas. In the past year we have ordered hundreds of seed packets from climates ranging from tropical to alpine, and from countries such as China, Iran, Sweden, Indonesia, and Chile. In this way we expand the genetic diversity of the collections in the Conservatory and gardens, providing a research tool to our students and staff. Our own Site Index Seminum, sent to 300 botanical gardens around the world, brings in orders for thousands of seed packets each year.
Our work with endangered species gives students opportunities to propagate cuttings of some of the rarest plants in the world. The Sahara cypress (Cupressus dupreziana), one of the world's twelve rarest trees, was the subject of a propagation experiment conducted by Bibiana Garcia-Baio '00 and Conservatory staff. Our successful experiment resulted in a soon-to-be-published report and a fine crop of 18 inch plants. These 40 plants were mailed to the Huntington Botanical Garden in California, which has a climate more suitable to this Saharan tree, and will be distributed for planting in the Los Angeles area.
Another rare and endangered conifer, Torreya taxifolia, is in severe
decline in its wild habitat in Florida and Georgia due to an undetermined cause. To help protect it from extinction, we collected cuttings in the wild, which were then propagated by Smith students. We shipped over 3,000 rooted cuttings to our collaborator, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, for distribution in the southern states where this beautiful evergreen might flourish.
During the 1990s, an explosion of research has been conducted on the genus Taxus (yew) and taxol, a powerful anticancer compound found within yew leaves and bark. With sponsorship from the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and private industry, Smith students and Botanic Garden staff collected species from wild populations around the world, and our Conservatory now houses the world's most diverse collection of yews. We have supplied samples to scientists at universities such as Michigan and North Carolina State. We have also entered into collaborative agreements with a number of pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms seeking to screen plants for new medicinal compounds. Hundreds of samples have been collected from wild plants, or from the plants within our gardens, and shipped to firms such as Pfizer, Inc., and Phyton, Inc.
Other scientists seek plant material from our collections for academic research. New techniques in genetic analysis allow scientists to measure "relatedness" among species, genera, and families and have caused considerable rethinking of plant evolution and taxonomy. We supplied two dozen primitive angiosperms to Sarah Mathews at Harvard University for her work on angiosperms. To our longtime friend and collaborator Dr. Shu-Miaw Chaw of the Academia Sinica of Taiwan, we shipped over fifty cycads and conifers for her work on gymnosperms.
As scientific research becomes more genetics-based, collections in botanical gardens can become an amazing palette of research material for scientists. The collections of the Botanic Garden of Smith College are not only a wonderful place to visit and soothe the soul, but also a powerful set of research tools.