Provenance Data for collection material?

Paul Licht
Sat, 24 Dec 2011 08:30:23 PST
I think I can provide a perspective on the issue of provenance from the 
standpoint of both a private collector (with a special interest in 
geophytes) and a botanical garden for which the issue at hand is 
especially important. First, I would agree that botanical gardens in 
general do not take the issue of provenance seriously and most do not 
have a provenance requirement for their collection. It is also not easy 
to get data on this issue, although in a major survey I did last year 
for the 20 largest collections in N. America, the major gardens could 
provide relatively good data on the percent of their accessions with 
provenance. The results (which I can make available to anyone 
interested) show that these collections are largely without provenance.  
In fact, the UC Botanical Garden stands out as the largest, most 
diverse, collection in N. America, with about 65-70% of our 20,000 
accessions, 10,000 species, having some kind of provenance.  In fact, 
this relatively strict collecting policy does hinder the acquisition of 
new material; e.g., we not only require provenance but material must be 
legally collected.  We do under special circumstances, deviate from our 
policy; namely, when we receive extremely valuable/rare material via 
confiscation; we are  plant rescue center and have obtained many rare 
orchids, carnivorous plants and cycads via this route. The issue of 
provenance is a bit tricky under these circumstances, but often the 
material has such a restricted distribution that we can get close.

Allow me to address a few other concerns that have been raised

1. the issue of long term maintenance is real, and yes, new directors 
can make major changes.  Since UCBG is intended as a research and 
education as well as a public collection, the collection is less 
vulnerable; our collection has been relatively stable over the 100 years.
2. We do not focus on usual plants. While we have over 2000 endangered 
species and accept especially rare material as discussed, they are not 
necessarily the focus of acquisition.In fact, since we maintain a global 
collection with an intent to display naturalistic assemblages, common 
species are valuable.
3. We do attempt to make material freely available to the public by 
propagating from seeds or cuttings. In fact, these sales are important 
for the financial support of the collection (which is why I cannot offer 
more for the PBS exchange). Incidentally, our own policy prevents use of 
our seed for building the collection since the seed is not directly from 
a wild population source. There are limitations on providing material to 
the public based on international conventions controlling material from 
certain countries.
4. Only rarely do we limit access to our provenance data. This most 
commonly occurs with some of the extremely endangered native California 
species that we work with; we are required to limit these data by 
5. Finally, to address Michael Homicks question about what constitutes 
provenance, there is no single answer. Minimally, we define having 
provenance as being wild-collected.  I think precise geographical data 
(e.g., GPS coordinates) would be the most valuable, but only rarely 
available. Rather, we strive for some level of geographical detail, 
e.g., xx miles from some recognized 'marker' in some country.  One might 
also question how valid such data are, especially when provided by an 
'unknown' collector. Again, we need to make it clear that while 
vegetative offsets of a wild-collected plant are acceptable, we do not 
use seed produced 'in captivity'.

There are many more details that need be discussed but I hope this gives 
an overview.

Paul Licht, Director
Univ. California Botanical Garden
200 Centennial Drive
Berkeley, CA 94720

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