Greg Payton, Plant Records Specialist
Keeping detailed records about the origin and disposition of Dawes’ living collection is in part how The Arboretum is distinct from a mere display garden. Detailed plant records and labels distinguish a scientific collection, and these allow the plants in the collection to be used for research and education as well as for ornamental display.
The need for maintaining complete and accurate records on plant accessions in arboreta and botanic gardens is an essential requirement for the successful management of scientific and conservation material. An herbarium is also maintained; it consists of pressed-and-dried plant specimens preserved for long-term storage and reference.
In the early days of The Dawes Arboretum, handwritten accession journals (essentially log books) were kept; plant entries were recorded using a sequential number that noted the origin, material type and other pertinent data. Each such entry constitutes an “accession number,” the essential code for locating and searching the database. Log books were eventually migrated into card catalogs with a card for each plant in the collection. In the early 1990’s, these cards were computerized by Dawes’ staff and volunteers, and these data formed the foundation of the modern digital records system currently in use.
The vast majority of the collection plants at The Dawes Arboretum have labels in one form or another. The basic accession tag contains specific information such as accession number, place of origin, material type received, and provenance (i.e., if collected directly from a wild population vs. acquired from a garden source). These tags are located on the north side of the plant to make them easy to find. Most plants will also have a display label detailing the common name, family and native range of the species. These display labels are generally attached near the basic accession tag, but are sometimes located on posts that face trails, viewpoints, or memorial trees.
Historically, plants were mapped into 100-foot grid cells and were hand-drawn into map books to provide the capability to find specific plants. These grid cells were originally marked with survey markers first laid out in the 1930’s. In the early 2000’s, we began locating plants using GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) systems. This allows us to locate plants where marker pins were never placed (or currently do not exist). All of these points (and imaginary lines) together with roads, buildings, hydrology features, trails and much more, are maintained on a GIS (Geographic Information System). Each plant is inventoried at regular intervals to ensure that it still exists and is labeled properly.
All of the GIS information, plant locations, photographs, taxonomy (plant name) data and much more can be accessed on our Arboretum Explorer website (http://dawesarb.arboretumexplorer.org). When accessed on a mobile data-enabled device, such as a smart phone, the device’s built-in GPS location services will display your location on the arboretum map, making finding plants very much simplified.