Botanical Gardens Research

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Botanical Gardens - Challenges

Environmental catastrophes such as floods and hurricanes are some challenges for botanical gardens in the US. While staying relevant, fulfilling visitors' expectations and overcoming financial difficulties are the challenges for the museum industry. Outlined below are the details for each of the challenges.

Environmental catastrophes

  • Selby Botanical Gardens in Florida announced its expansion proposal last January 27, 2020. According to Selby Gardens President and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki, their plan of expansion addresses the challenges they face such as environmental catastrophes.
  • Selby Gardens holds one of the world’s largest collections of orchids and bromeliads. However, the old structure's location is in a flood zone making it vulnerable whenever there's a hurricane in Florida.

Staying relevant

  • According to Verner Johnson, one of the challenges for museums is the need to stay relevant. Museums find themselves in a realm where their "time-honored methods are becoming outdated and ineffective." There is a need for museums to adapt to cultural changes in order to meet the needs of their audience.
  • In relation to this, there is a concern in the museum industry regarding the role of museum donors. According to a female art leader, museum donors tend to be older and may not be familiar with the changing demographics of the audience. The recommendation is to choose museum board members and stakeholders not simply for their financial contribution but also for their professional expertise.

Visitors' expectations

  • Fulfilling the expectations of museum visitors is also a challenge because museum visitors are diverse and thereby also have diverse expectations.
  • Also, the rise of digital technology has brought about a rise in the wide availability of in-depth information and media thereby also producing a generation of visitors that expect new experiences and ideas. The challenge lies in audience engagement.
  • The Broad MSU Art Museum at Michigan State University is a specific example of a museum that faces the challenge of engaging its audience and fulfilling visitors' expectations.

Financial difficulties

  • Lack of funding has been a common challenge among various museums. For instance, The Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo, Florida, the Claremont Museum of Art in California and the Las Vegas Art Museum have all closed dues to financial difficulties.
  • Also, according to the market research report of IBIS World, financial difficulty is also common in the national and state parks industry as they have suffered from growing federal and state budget deficits for the past five years.

Research Strategy

In order to identify the challenges being faced by the botanical gardens in the US, we have searched through press releases and market research articles but failed to find any publicly available data that are specific to the botanical garden industry. However, we have found market research reports by Market Research and Market Insights pertaining to botanical gardens that are behind a paywall. We then examined specific botanical gardens in the US such as the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden, United States Botanic Garden and Shelby Botanical Gardens. However, we found insufficient information pertaining to the challenges they face. Thus, we expanded our search to the museum industry as well as to the park industry.

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Botanical Gardens - KPIs

Measuring the performance of a botanical garden is centered around public engagement and education, plant conservation, scientific research, collections, horticulture, sustainability and ethics, and business management and governance. According to our findings, The top 3 KPIs used in botanical gardens are the number of visitors, the number of events held, and public income.

Visitors & Public Education

  • Based on the results of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) survey of the key performance indicators of 200 botanic gardens in more than 50 countries, the most common KPI was the number of visitors. This measure was used by 87% of the respondents.
  • The second most measured KPI in botanical gardens based on survey respondents is the number of events held (80%). These include exhibitions, cultural events, etc.
  • Other visitors & public education related KPIs in the top 20 most common performance measures used include the number of social media followers (68%), attendance of events (67%), the number of traditional media publications (with TV, newspaper and radio coverage), visitor satisfaction (58%), number of adults attending courses offered (52%), number of members (51%), and visitors’ attitude or behavioral changes (51%).


  • The third most measured KPI according to survey results is public income (77%).
  • After visitors and public education, funding related KPIs are the common measures used by botanical gardens. Other key indicators within the top 20 measures related to funding include philanthropic income (61%), and income from competitive grants (57%).
  • The BGCI report states that funding is the most widely measured KPI at the institutional level, since most botanical gardens largely or sorely rely on public funding.

Science and Collections

  • Science and collections related measures also feature prominently within the top 20 most common KPIs used by botanical gardens. These include the use of collections by third parties for research and conservation (59%), number of people using the collections (55%), and the number of successful project proposals (54%).
  • The BGCI study findings show that scientific research in botanical gardens is far broader than just classifying biological organisms and also involves molecular biology, ecology, biochemistry, biodiversity, and conservation.
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Botanical Gardens - Trends

In researching the top rated botanical gardens in the U.S., four trends were identified within the industry. The most established botanical gardens have encompassed two current societal concerns, sustainability and conservation, in their programming and development initiatives. America's fascination with technology has also propelled botanical gardens to offer both virtual tours and QR codes. Sustainability, conservation, virtual tours, and QR codes are trends that are becoming popular at botanical gardens in Florida and across the country.


Plant Conservation

  • The leading botanical gardens have incorporated plant conservation into their missions. These public gardens hope to protect both local and global endangered plants. Botanical gardens are important sources of off site conservation efforts, where plants are grown in a botanical garden located far away from the plant's native habitat. This process safeguards the at-risk plants from complete annihilation.
  • The Fairchild Botanical Gardens in Coral Gable, Florida reflects a significant effort to protect endangered plants in South Florida. Through "rare plant introductions" and subsequent "reintroductions," numerous plant species have been protected and conserved.
  • The Missouri Botanical Garden follows the framework established by the Global Strategy for Conservation, as updated by the United Nations in 2010. This initiative aims to prevent the loss of plant diversity on a global level. "In addressing the major challenges faced in conserving the plants of the world and their ecosystems, the Garden builds upon decades of plant exploration and research." The Missouri Botanical Garden's mission is rooted in this international movement, and this is reflected in the types of plants found within the park.
  • According to Florida's Naples Botanical Garden website, "seed-bearing plants are disappearing at a rate that’s 500 times higher than expected as a result of natural forces alone." The Naples Botanical Garden in Florida has partnered with other botanical gardens in Latin America and the Caribbean to work on conservation efforts. This partnership has enabled them to share seeds, conduct research, and to identify and conserve endangered plants.

Virtual Tours

  • Botanical gardens offer virtual tours through video and still images. They not only educate the public about the plants found within the parks, but also provide a therapeutic, "welcome burst of color and commentary" for those enduring depressing, cold winters. For many gardens, these virtual experiences provide an increase in donations or public support, and often result in an increase in actual visits to the park. Additionally, virtual access to the gardens allows for students to access valuable information without needing to visit the gardens, and those with mobility issues are able to virtually visit without encountering any physical barriers.
  • The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, VA purchased Garden Explore, a web-based program designed to allow virtual users to view and learn while virtually visiting the garden. The data-management portion of the program allows the horticulture staff to maintain accurate records of new plantings, displays, and collections. The program also partners with Google Satellite maps to enable users to pinpoint specific gardens.
  • Indian River Botanical Garden in Florida offers numerous options for virtual tours, as these experiences are becoming critical for college students enrolled in distance education courses. One professor within the University of Florida's Department of Environmental Horticulture explains, “I teach courses to students located throughout the state. The virtual garden tour brings the gardens to them, as it is impossible for most students to travel here.”
  • YouTube is becoming a popular option for botanical gardens to provide visitors with an opportunity to visit virtually. The Fairchild Botanical Gardens video has been viewed 80,000 in just one year, and the New York Botanical Garden has nearly 66,000 views. Outside of the United States, a botanical garden in British Columbia has over 500,000 views, with other international gardens boasting upwards of one million viewers.

QR Codes

Research Strategy

In order to determine the current trends at botanical gardens in the United States, we first researched the locations of the best botanical gardens. We consulted published recommendations from a variety of industry and consumer websites, including the Travel Channel, the Seattle Times, USA Today, ProFlowers, and Curbed. After reviewing each list of top botanical gardens, we noticed that certain gardens recurred on the lists. We then reviewed the missions, programs, and features of these gardens. We consulted several science journals, blogs, and governmental publications to determine why these trends have developed in the industry. When possible, we included examples of these trends found at botanical gardens in Florida.

From Part 03