Munich Botanic Garden
A treasury of plant diversity
An attractive and richly endowed garden, and an important resource for cutting-edge research: This month the Munich Botanic Garden looks back on its first 100 years on its present site.
Photo: Franz Höck, Munich Botanic Garden
Munich’s Botanic Garden is home to one of the world’s most important and diverse collections of plants, and this month it celebrates its centenary year on its present site in the grounds of Nymphenburg Palace. Its immediate predecessor in Munich‘s inner city was opened in the year 1812, but by the time this “Old Botanic Garden” reached its 100th birthday it was bursting at the seams. In 1914, the whole of its plant collection was therefore transferred to a new 22-hectare site adjacent to Nymphenburg Palace. Each year, the Garden receives approximately 350,000 visitors, who come to admire its 16,000 species from all over the world and to learn more about their fascinating life-cycles and adaptations.
However, the Garden is much more than an appealing and colorful showcase for the wonders of the plant world. “It has always been a research institution, and continues to fulfill a variety of important scientific functions, focusing in particular on the evolutionary relationships between selected families of plants,” says Professor Susanne Renner, Director of the Botanic Garden and the State Collection for Botany (which is housed on the same site) and Head of the Institute of Systematic Botany and Mycology at LMU.
Exotic communities, closely observed
Plants from all the continents flourish in the Garden. It is therefore an ideal location for so-called “common garden experiments”, in which plants from different climatic zones and habitats are grown together, and thus exposed to the same environmental conditions. “This provides us with a unique opportunity to investigate how different species adapt to specific environmental factors, including climatic factors,” says Renner. When transplanted to the Munich Botanic Garden, a plant that is endogenous to Chile behaves essentially as it would at home. Isolated from other populations of its kind, it is essentially deprived of evolutionary options – allowing researchers to distinguish physiological responses that are genetically fixed from those that represent adaptations to local conditions. “Our study of the timing of leaf emergence in 500 species of woody plants from all over the world is a good example of this type of experiment, and is the most extensive investigation of this phenomenon yet undertaken,” Renner points out.
The perfumes of Arabia – and elsewhere
Furthermore, without the wide-ranging collection of species kept in the Garden, research on many highly specialized plant families would be practically impossible, as researchers would otherwise have to find and study them in their often remote and isolated native habitats – and locate them at the right time, when they are in flower. This is true for those interested in the study of the odoriferous compounds produced by various orchids. “These are orchid species that are very rare in the wild, have been successfully cultivated only here in the Botanic Garden, and can be persuaded to flower by our experienced and knowledgeable greenhouse staff,” Renner explains. The chemical characterization of the compounds isolated from the flowers of these orchids is being carried out in cooperation with a perfume manufacturer – so some of the scents they identify may end up one day in an expensive new fragrance.
Moreover, new species continue to be added to the Garden’s abundant collections. One current priority program focuses the flora of the Caucasus. To celebrate the centenary, an exhibition entitled “100 Jahre Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg” opened in Greenhouse No.7 on 11. May. göd