Green Genes: Mapping the Plant World, U.S. Botanic Garden, Washington, D.C.

June 10, 2011

Green Genes: Mapping the Plant World

From May 28 through October 10, the U.S. Botanic Garden examines plant relationships and how new genetic research is changing the plant family tree

On Saturday, May 28, the U.S. Botanic Garden opened Green Genes: Mapping the Plant World, a garden exhibit presented on the Conservatory Terrace. The exhibit examines how we assign scientific names to the world’s flora, estimated at about 300,000 species, and how the names can guide us in understanding plant relationships.

Why and how are plants named? At first, scientific names were assigned to facilitate identification and communication. For the most part, names were assigned based on visible characters such as numbers of flower parts. In the 19th century, we began to expect that the names would also reflect plant relationships through shared lines of descent. Only within the past 15 years have scientists begun to look at gene sequences and use them as a direct measure of relationship.

Gene sequencing has been a boon to plant sciences, but the changes in plant names that it produces can be the bane of gardeners, who most often use names for identification and communication. Old names die hard, and new names may seem unwarranted because gardeners can’t see genes, especially those that are largely neutral in effect.

Green Genes: Mapping the Plant World presents flowering plants in the context of the plant family tree and highlights some of the new relationships that have been revealed in recent years. Plant taxonomy is taking on new importance: When plant names reflect relationship, they point researchers to sources of genes for disease resistance, medicinal compounds, environmental flexibility or other valuable traits.

Visitors are invited to explore and enjoy the terrace gardens, resplendent in the beauty and rich diversity of flowering plants. While Green Genes: Mapping the Plant World is on exhibit, the USBG will be offering several lectures and tours.

Everyone is invited to the free Green Genes family festival on Saturday, June 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Conservatory is located at 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Visitors are encouraged to take Metrobus and Metrorail. Further information is available by visiting or calling (202) 225-8333.

United States Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. The Garden informs visitors about the importance and fundamental value of plants, and highlights the diversity of plants worldwide, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological significance. With nearly a million visitors annually, the USBG strives to demonstrate and promote sustainable practices. The U.S. Botanic Garden has been recognized as a museum and accredited by the American Association of Museums.


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