David Victor
Tue, 20 Dec 2005 02:31:46 PST
Hi Jane,

Regarding your piece on collections:

1. Can you suggest interesting collections of a single genus or family, 
gathered and maintained by an individual or household, whose proprietors I 
can interview, correspond with, and/or visit about their work?

I live in the UK and as you probably know there is a wide range of public 
collections organised under the banner of the National Council for the 
Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG), which runs under the wider 
management of the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley.  In addition, 
there are a number of individuals like myself who organise private 
collections.  In past years I did hold my collection of Oxalis under the 
NCCPG scheme but, frankly, the bureaucracy of that organisation eventually 
drove me to give them up.  Nowadays I maintain a dozen or so collections 
for my own interest.

2. Why do you think individuals (as opposed to institutions such as 
botanical gardens) create serious collections of particular kinds of 
plants? What motivates them?

I can't speak for other but I hope I understand some of my own 
motivations!  My most powerful driver is my fascination with the 
never-ending variability of plants in every dimension that one can 
imagine.  Secondly, I am fascinated with the process of researching, 
finding, obtaining, germinating, growing-on and flowering plants - most of 
my material is from wild-collected seed.  Thirdly, like most collectors, 
there is a strong element of what business psychiatrists sometimes call 
"completer-finishers"; I think you should be able to work that out for 

3. If you are a collector yourself, what kinds of information do you think 
are important for others beginning to build collections?

Patience.  Growing space.  Good access to information - Google can do most 
of that.  Extensive record keeping.

4. What are some ways that a notable collection can be perpetuated when the 
individual who keeps it is no longer able to do so? Do you know of examples 
where collections have been successfully bequeathed, distributed, or 
otherwise preserved (e.g., the conifer collection in the National Arboretum 
in Washington, DC)?

I don't believe that there is any fool proof way of maintaining collections 
beyond the ability and interest of the keeper, other than encouraging that 
person to give away/sell as much as possible during their period of 
interest.  All collections need a "product hero" dedicated to their 

5. How are private collections valuable to science and environmental 
conservation? Do ethical collectors outnumber "orchid thieves"? Do you know 
of instances in which material from private collections has been used in 
habitat restoration?

I doubt very much that many are of any value to science - the necessary 
discipline over the accession of material is not sufficient.  However, the 
same is true of many so-called "scientific collections held in botanic 
gardens.  Having looked at many collections in such places over the years, 
I am aware that the material is often mis-identified.  The various Index 
Seminum that are used to obtain much of the material often have been 
contaminated with open-pollinated material and, only too frequently, the 
in-house gardeners have mixed up labels or treated seedlings as authentic 

Hope that helps.

Best regards,
David Victor 

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