Amorphophallus Titanium (Corpse Flower) courtesy of Shutterstock
Amorphophallus Titanium (Corpse Flower) image courtesy of Shutterstock

It’s a fact that botanical gardens have to keep on their toes to attract visitors throughout the year. Just as with art museums, a great collection is not enough.  In addition to the traditional special events, like orchid, mum, spring flower, coleus, and poinsettia shows, there must be model trains, bright lights in winter, Santa, (maybe) the Easter Bunny, rentals, fundraising, and—increasingly—dramatic displays like a yearly showing of Amorphophallus titanium, the corpse plant.

That’s a lot of visitors and a lot of revenue—not hard to see why gardens would find it difficult to resist cultivating and exhibiting this plant (which doesn’t sound easy). I don’t really like crowds at our gardens—the beautiful Lord and Burnham greenhouses are best enjoyed when there is normal visitation, especially in summer—so I gave Morty a miss this time. I have attended and enjoyed other special events there including the interior LED light show in winter.

But there are things that I’d enjoy even more at our garden. Some of them are happening—a “healing garden” now under construction will expand the outdoor plantings in an interesting way, adding native and nonnative species and a bioswale. It is meant to add to the areas where visitors can enjoy exterior plantings, which have been somewhat limited, as the garden is set inside a county park. Many of the plants have medicinal connections. Someday, the park may yield more space to the garden, and more plantings like this will be possible.

But it also seems as though botanical institutions like this could be centers for learning about the bigger issues surrounding plants—some of which we discuss on this website regularly. They could be resources for gardeners to learn about beautiful and sustainable ways to plant their domestic landscapes.  I think some gardens do this—Brooklyn’s comes to mind. I love the exotic, but it should be mixed with a healthy dose of the everyday.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. “… some gardens do this—Brooklyn’s comes to mind.”

    Too bad they fired all their research staff, and removed “science” and “horticulture” from their marketing – uh, so-called “mission” – statement.

    They’ve invested in building naming opportunities for the 1%. They’ve successfully raised over $100M for their capital campaign. Yet they’ve also shuttered their herbarium, in desparate need, for over a decade of capital investment.

    It’s been over a year. They still have no plan to restore their research capacity.

    They’ve abandoned their educational mission. They’re a wedding venue, now.


        My boyfriend recently received a copy of a new publication by Brooklyn Botanic which likely is aimed at 3rd graders and even younger but in a good way, certainly in a way that seems to address some of the larger issues surrounding plants. How many books for kids use both binomial and common names not just for plants but insects, birds, mushrooms? I think this is a terrific new publication. It is sad though that Brooklyn Botanic as Chris has mentioned definitely has its challenges and things that people are upset about, the loss of the science department in particular is upsetting, particularly when you think of wonderful work done there recently documenting flora within a 50 mile radius of NYC, the New York Metropolitan Flora Project. But I would not go so far as to say that BBG has abandoned its educational mission entirely. I hate to say anything too bad about Brooklyn Botanic because I think there are wonderful knowledgeable people there who care deeply about the institution in all departments including marketing. This is a Botanic Garden that just had a centennial celebration of their children’s garden– they were the first botanic garden to have a program like this.

        Unfortunately I think the problem is that these public institutions like many others have to work very hard to secure funding.

  2. Times are hard economically and I’m sure that’s the #1 factor in these decisions. But let’s look on the bright side–maybe these “sensational” shows get people in the door for the first time–and intrigued about botany?

  3. “it also seems as though botanical institutions like this could be centers for learning about the bigger issues surrounding plants”

    Yes, its sad. I’ve noticed the same thing about natural history museums. I remember the Chicago Field Museum when it was just displays of fossils and rocks and animals in glass cases; you actually had to read the cards to get anything out of it but when you did, you learned like crazy. Now it seems like the items are far decreased, surrounded by “wow” factor, and the information is scant and all aimed at 3rd graders.

  4. I sold a bouquet subscription for many years through a CSA which I called The Annotated Bouquet. It was accompanied by a newsletter that described the elements of the bouquet and had a short blurb about each of them, whether mythological, historical, medicinal or from folklore. Subscribers reported getting the flowers as much, if not more, for the newsletter as for the flowers themselves. People love a story, crave a connection, need a link to the natural world, even one as mundane as learning of the use of Calendula in diaper ointment or making the meat of Perdue chickens less pale. Did you know that Ulysses was sent off into the afterworld in a cloak of Gomphrena, a symbol of eternity? Gardens could easily exploit this need their patrons have for connections and grow beds of expendable flowers that trained docents could use to hook young patrons into a lifetime interest in plants. The possibilities are endless. Everyone should know how to elicit a”pigsqueek” from a Bergenia leaf or inflate a frog’s belly from a Sedum leaf, or trigger the explosive seedpods of sweet touch-me-not. Anyone else know that giant snapdragons were once cultivated in Russia as an oilseed? Or that Ammi majus root is used as a systemic sunscreen by the Bedouin? People eat this stuff up (sometimes at their peril). Why do we not feed them more?

  5. I think that they should include food forest display areas. I also think there is value in showing perennial foods, common and unusual berries, fruits, herbs and common weeds with their uses. Maybe have a price reduction on days dedicated to Gardeners. Those gardens need to show people things they can grow. The Cleveland Botanical charges very high prices for classes, therefore the class members are those who can afford it, but need the education least.

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