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Vizcaya, part of the Plant Collections Network

A sampling of the Jatropha collection at Vizcaya.

The Road to Accreditation 

In 2019, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens received its first two accreditations from the Plant Collections Network, an American Public Gardens Association initiative that recognizes the importance of the genetic diversity of plant collection by botanic gardens in North America. Those collections are Vizcaya’s Jatropha and Staghorn Ferns. 

The in-depth accreditation process “…involved a number of steps, and it took us about a year to complete,” said Ian Simpkins, Deputy Director of Horticulture at Vizcaya. 

Getting Started

The first step was to develop an acquisition plan outlining our methodologies for collecting these plants as well as what species were to be collected. Then came the five-year collections plan, which details the care, expansion of the collection, and distribution of the specimens in each collection; which is similar to what museums must do to document the care and preservation of their antiques and artwork. 

Staghorn fern displayed in oak tree at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
Staghorn fern displayed in oak tree at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Photo by Ian Simpkins.

Network members are required to provide proper care, and also must provide a strategic approach to grow these plants and ensure proper representation of the groups of plants being collected. The plan also includes an outline of how these plants will be distributed to other botanical gardens in the region to expand their access. 

The Jatropha collection, for example, will eventually be distributed to another botanic garden in South Florida and potentially another on the West Coast. Vizcaya is also planning to collect vouchers of plant material to submit to an herbarium at another botanic garden here in South Florida as well.  

Once finalized, the collection plan had to be approved by Vizcaya’s Board and Executive Director as well as by the American Public Gardens Association.  

By the numbers

The final step was to accession each plant, joining it with a permanently held record in Vizcaya’s plant records database. An accession occurs when a specific number is assigned to each plant, marking the year they were collected, and a sequential number used for tracking purposes. It is exactly the same as an accession or serial number that a museum might assign to a piece of art.  

Four potted Jatropha plants
Four Jatropha plants showing accession numbers for each plant. Photo by Ian Simpkins.

That number connects all of the data that comes with that plant, including where it was collected, how it was collected, who collected it, and any other specific taxonomic or collection information that is associated with that specific plant. 

“The amount of data that we have to collect and approve is huge. So it’s an involved process,” said Simpkins.  

We earned it

Once all the pieces were assembled, the submission was made to the Plant Collections Network. Impressed with the thoroughness of Vizcaya’s materials, the museum was easily able to receive accreditation for these two plant collections. 

“Having these collections accredited doesn’t just imply that we have the best collection,” explains Simpkins. “It implies that we’re committed to maintaining these collections in perpetuity as part of our recognition of their importance to plant diversity and to public gardens. It’s really a labor of love.”