The International Plant Exploration Program

The Atlanta Botanical Garden established the International Plant Exploration Program in 2016 with the intention of constructing a plant evaluation nursery, seed collecting trips to Southeast Asia, and the launching of a visiting scholar program. The program is managed by Scott McMahan, a Georgia native, former owner of GardenHood, and long-term collaborator of the Garden who has made more than 20 seed collecting trips to Southeast Asia with support from the Garden.

The United States and Asia share one of the world’s best-known biogeographic patterns-- the close relationship between the temperate floras of eastern Asia and eastern North America. Sixty-five million years ago, two major land bridges connected Eurasia and North America; the Bering land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, and the North Atlantic land bridge linking northern Canada to Europe. Today, species long separated by thousands of miles and changing environmental conditions survive in ecosystems in similar terrain and climatic conditions, sustaining the modern descendants of these ancient plants.

Plants from Southeast Asia have always been a component of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s collections. In keeping with the Garden’s strategic plan and collections policy, the Garden is formalizing its long-term support of plant exploration in Southeast Asia. Key relationships with Dr. Donglin Zhang at the University of Georgia and the Chenshan Botanical Garden in China are creating the institutional structure to sustain long-term collaborations between these organizations.

No other institution in the southeastern United States is focusing on the biogeographic connection between Southeast Asia and the southeastern United States at the scale of the Garden’s International Plant Exploration program. Objectives for this phase of the program’s development include the construction of a plant evaluation nursery, plant collecting trips to Southeast Asia, and the launch of a visiting scholar program.

The International Plant Exploration Program at the Atlanta Botanical Garden will:

  • Preserve and disseminate the germplasm of plants from southeast Asia in the United States through seed and seedling distribution with appropriate botanical institutions.
  • Establish a program to evaluate new species from Southeast Asia for use in southeastern landscapes.
  • Create networks between the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the University of Georgia, and botanical institutions in Southeast Asia. These are initial steps in developing plant propagation programs for future conservation efforts of these threatened floras.
  • Source new germplasm for plant breeding efforts in the United States.

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