2. Overview of the Australian National Botanic Gardens

2.1 Description of the Gardens, its Functions and Values

Occupying a 90 hectare site on the lower slopes of Black Mountain in Canberra, the Australian National Botanic Gardens is a major scientific, educational and recreational resource. The location of the Gardens and adjacent sites is shown at Figure 1. It was one of the first botanic gardens in the world to adopt the study and display of indigenous species as a principal goal.

One third of the known flowering plant species that occur in Australia are represented. This is a significant achievement in Canberra’s cold climate. The Gardens plant displays are grouped into three basic themes:

Most of the plants are grown in open-ground beds. Plants that cannot be grown outdoors are grown in glasshouses and plant pots. A nursery complex, including glasshouses, is used to propagate most plants grown at the Gardens.

The developed section of the Gardens is zoned (see Figure 2) to allow for consolidated development of buildings and necessary infrastructure. Zoning also provides for a vegetation buffer zone between the Gardens and the adjacent Canberra Nature Park and landscape zones along the Gardens other boundaries. The developed section of the Gardens is also listed on the Register of the National Estate. Section 8 discusses site development in further detail.

The Gardens’ herbarium collections, together with those of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Plant Industry, form the Australian National Herbarium, managed by the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research (CPBR). The herbarium is a major scientific resource consisting of around 1 265 000 specimens. Over 90% of the specimens are directly related to the study of the Australian flora, while others serve as records of naturalised species, weeds and plants in cultivation. The CPBR’s collections include preserved plant specimens and their associated collection data.

Importantly, the herbarium also provides the scientific authentication for plants growing at the Gardens. The herbarium specimens and data, together with the Gardens’ living collection and the data held on it, provide a major scientific resource for plant scientists, both nationally and internationally.

The Gardens’ living and herbarium collections are complemented by a significant collection of well-documented photographs of Australian native plants and their habitats. Collections of living plants, seeds and herbarium specimens of plants known to be at risk of extinction in the wild are maintained as part of the Gardens’ contribution to plant conservation activities. A public reference herbarium is also maintained by the CPBR. Other specialist facilities on the Gardens site include a horticultural research laboratory, horticultural depots and a library.

The Gardens conducts its own research programs, mainly through the CPBR. Special interest areas include the horticultural development of Australian plants, and the classification of mosses, lichens, orchids, grevilleas, pea-flowers and tea trees. Major programs in recent years have included botanical data and information management, together with use of the Web as a tool to extend the dissemination of scientific and general information.

The Gardens is a major visitor destination for local, interstate and international visitors and it is an active participant in tourism programs. The Gardens also serves as a cultural and recreational venue. Concerts, theatre and dance performances and displays of art works have all proved to be popular attractions as have interpreted walks. A range of visitor facilities is provided including a Visitor Centre, Education Centre, café and shop.

Educational and community involvement programs at the Gardens cover a broad range of interests. Programs for educational organisations attract nearly 20 000 visits per year and a range of educational materials is produced for use on-site and off-site.

A program of exhibitions, practical demonstrations and lectures, publications and signs covering general and special interest topics have all contributed to the Gardens’ informal learning environment.

A chronology of significant events in the development of the Gardens is at Appendix 3.

2.2 Significance of the Gardens

National and International Significance

The Gardens contribute to Australia’s role in promoting the objectives of various international environment conventions.

In particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity recognises the importance of botanic gardens in ex situ conservation, in situ conservation, research, training, plant identification and monitoring, public awareness raising, access to genetic resources and global cooperation in relation to sustainable use of plant biodiversity. Relevant Articles of the Convention are at Appendix 4.

The Gardens also supports Australia’s obligations under other such conventions as the:

The Gardens maintains collaborative links with several key international organisations including the:

The Gardens’ collections are used by a wide range of scientists, in Australia and internationally, for research into the biology and taxonomy of Australian plants. In addition, Gardens’ staff share their technical expertise with other countries such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations.

The Australian Cultivar Registration Authority is responsible internationally for the registration of cultivated varieties derived from Australian plants. It is based at the Gardens - as is the national office of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation, which links scientific and community organisations with an interest in plant conservation.

The Gardens is a leader in the development of standards for botanical information storage and exchange, and acts as custodian for a number of national botanical data sets.

The high quality of the Gardens landscape was recognised in 1991 by inclusion of the developed part of the Gardens on the Register of the National Estate, as the Gardens provides outstanding examples of landscape design and horticulture using Australian native plants.

Local and Regional Activities

In promoting the tourist and educational aspects of the Gardens, close liaison is maintained with the following bodies:

The Gardens participates in regional conservation projects where it can offer suitable expertise on sustainable management or horticultural requirements of Australian plants. The Gardens also acts as an information resource for native flower industries, assisting with advice on managing native flower crops or providing ideas on the development of new cultivars for export.

The Gardens has worked cooperatively with the local Aboriginal Ngunnawal group and has hosted activities to celebrate the National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Commemoration (NAIDOC) week.

2.3 Visitors, Stakeholders and Partnerships

The Gardens is a major visitor destination used extensively by local residents and tourists. It provides beautifully landscaped environments in which visitors are encouraged to learn about and enjoy Australia’s flora. About 350 000 people visit the Gardens each year, the peak months being January and October. Approximately 6,000 pages are accessed from the Gardens website each day.

Studies of visitor use, experiences and perceptions of the Gardens, and opinions about management options for the future were undertaken in 1987, 1992 and 1998. The results of the 1998 survey of visitors are summarised at Appendix 5.

Visitors to the Gardens are perhaps the most visible stakeholders. However, a wide range of organisations and institutions are also involved with the Gardens - locally, nationally and internationally (refer also to Section 2.2).

As a national institution managed by a Commonwealth Government agency, the Australian National Botanic Gardens has a responsibility to work cooperatively with other organisations to further its aims. Gardens staff liaise and work with organisations involved in the management of botanic gardens, herbaria and plant conservation. The Gardens is committed to making available its expertise and to disseminating the information it has acquired.

The Gardens encourages collaborative links in all its research and horticultural activities, particularly through the CPBR. There are many collaborative projects with other areas of both Environment Australia and CSIRO, as well as national and international organisations and individuals. The Gardens also contributes to the knowledge and skills base through active Visiting Scientist, Student Botanical Internship and Herbarium & Seedbank Volunteer programs.

Collaborative Links

Collaborative links include the following organisations and groups.

Environment Australia



Cooperative Partnerships

In addition to the collaborative links listed above, the Gardens has cooperative partnerships with four bodies whose offices or secretariats are based at the Gardens.

Council of Heads of Australian Botanic Gardens

The Council of Heads of Australian Botanic Gardens comprises the eight Directors from Australia’s major botanic gardens, one from each State and Territory. This organisation provides the basis for cooperation and exchange of information between major botanic gardens and the many regional gardens. The Gardens hosts the organisation’s website, known as the Australian Botanic Gardens Forum.

Australian Network for Plant Conservation

The Australian Network for Plant Conservation draws together a wide range of botanic gardens, public and private land management bodies, and individuals with an interest in endangered plants. Activities include cultivation of endangered plants, exchanging information, provision of training on conservation and assisting with research into endangered plants. The Gardens also hosts the Network’s website.

Australian Cultivar Registration Authority

The Australian Cultivar Registration Authority (ACRA) comprises a national committee with representatives from the Gardens, all the major State and Territory botanic gardens, the Nursery Industry Association of Australia, and the Society for Growing Australian Plants. The Authority registers cultivated varieties of Australian plants in accordance with the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants. It also encourages horticultural development of Australian plants. The Gardens hosts the Authority’s website. The Gardens, through the ACRA, also houses herbarium specimens for the Plant Breeders Rights Office.

Friends of the Gardens

The Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens is the community support group for the Gardens. The Friends aim to increase community awareness of the scientific, educational, recreational and conservation roles of the Gardens as well as to raise funds to support these roles. They have an active program of activities for members and several special interest sub-groups. Many members contribute their time as volunteers in a range of Gardens projects (see also Section 5.7).

2.4 Summary of Previous Management Plan Achievements

The following points summarise the major achievements against the objectives of the 1994–1999 Australian National Botanic Gardens Management Plan.

Studying Australian Plants

Growing Australian Plants

Promoting Australian Plants

The Gardens’ educational programs had strong emphasis on conservation and sustainable management of Australian plants. Around 20 000 students access the programs annually, either at the Gardens or through the Web.

Policy and Management

2.5 Mission and Purposes

2.5.1 Mission

Consistent with Environment Australia’s vision of ‘a natural and cultural environment, valued, enhanced and protected in harmony with the nation’s social and economic goals’ and its mission of ‘National leadership in the protection and conservation of the environment’; the mission of the Australian National Botanic Gardens is: ‘to grow, study and promote Australian plants’.

This meets the requirements the EPBC Act. The Gardens’ mission is consistent with the purposes for which the Gardens were established (see Foreword) and the Australian IUCN reserve management principles applicable to the Gardens as an IUCN category IV protected area (see Section 1.6 and Appendix 2)

2.5.2 Objectives

To achieve the stated mission, the Gardens will strive to:

1. achieve excellence in the presentation of the Gardens to enable people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to enjoy and appreciate the values of Australian plants and botanic gardens;

2. maintain and enhance integrated living, herbarium and photographic collections of Australian plants, supported by the library collection;

3. provide high quality information and an educational resource for government, industry, scientific institutions and the community;

4. conduct and encourage research using the Gardens’ living and herbarium collections;

5. foster understanding of the origins and values(*1) of Australia’s plant biodiversity, while promoting its protection, conservation and wise use;

6. provide a national focus for, and work in effective partnership with, other organisations in matters concerning botanic gardens, herbaria and Australian plant biodiversity; and

7. maintain an accountable, innovative and receptive organisation that is responsive to clients and new circumstances and which values staff contributions.


*1 – ‘values’ should be read as including environmental, cultural, economic, heritage and aesthetic values.


Updated 15 December, 2004 , webmaster, ANBG (anbg-info@anbg.gov.au)