Plant Exploration

Middle Asia

Stretching between the Caspian Sea in the west and the Altay Mountains in the east, Middle Asia includes the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This region consists of varied ecosystems such as steppes (semi-arid grasslands), deserts, tugai (riparian forests), taiga (boreal forests), wetlands and snowfields. This variety of ecosystems has contributed to rich botanical diversity, especially of horticultural and fruit crops and Denver Botanic Gardens has been involved in past plant exploration in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

In November 2018, as part of a Plant Collecting Collaborative delegation that included experts from the Chicago Botanic Garden, Longwood Gardens and Denver Botanic Gardens participated in a workshop in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Hosted by Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, the workshop participants included national representatives from botanical institutions of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in addition to Uzbekistan and U.S. representatives. At the end of the workshop, we signed and executed the “Tashkent Accord,” which paves the way for developing collaborations between our nations and institutions to further our botanical knowledge through plant exploration and field work, ex situ conservation of collections in botanical gardens, in situ conservation, scientific exchange and joint publications.

In 2019, Curator of Steppe Collections Mike Bone and Horticulturist Kevin Williams conducted a plant exploration trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. After germination, plants collected will be planted in various gardens at the Gardens.

Oaxaca, Mexico

The Mexican state of Oaxaca is one of the richest regions on earth botanically. The purpose of this trip was to complete a botanical tour of Oaxaca with a focus on cactus, agaves, and many other succulent plants growing in their natural habitats. These plants are an important part of our Gardens collections and seeing these plants in habitat can inform how we best care for them and display them, contributing to our ability to make the most of our collections and the educational opportunities they present for our visitors.

Dan Johnson and Nick Daniel traveled over 1,200 miles to many remote regions, photographing hundreds of rare and common species. This educated them further about the regional ecology and helped confirm identification of numerous species that they saw in habitat. It also provided inspiration for new display ideas using our own collections.

Additionally, their positive interactions with the people of Oaxaca and the cultural exchange experienced came as a further bonus, cementing good relationships with people who welcomed them and were enthusiastic about showing them their country and culture.


The Lesotho highlands are an important steppe region. Identified as one of the four major steppe regions of the world it is important for Denver Botanic Gardens to visit, collect from, and understand the flora of this unique region.

In 2017 Curator of Steppe Collections Mike Bone was invited to join a small group of scientists and a horticulturist from the Munich Botanical Gardens to travel to Lesotho to collect seed and to provide horticultural training to staff members of the Katse Alpine Botanical Garden. Another trip was conducted in 2018. The goal of Denver Botanic Gardens for these trips was to initiate discussions about capacity-building potential for Katse and how Denver Botanic Gardens may be involved in an ongoing capacity.

While at the Katse site and in selected natural areas in Lesotho the collection of seed that would be added to the botanic garden collections of Munich and Denver was also carried out. During this trip, 176 collections were made. 

Republic of Georgia

From April 23-May 11, 2018, Panayoti Kelaidis representing Denver Botanic Gardens participated in a plant exploration trip to the Republic of Georgia along with colleagues from Chicago Botanic Garden, Institute of Botany of Ilia State University and Longwood Gardens. This trip was one of the trips conducted by the Plant Collecting Collaborative, a 15-member botanic garden consortium.

The goals of this Collaborative are to partner in international and domestic plant exploration to enrich living collections in botanic gardens and develop partnerships with institutions in other countries for resource sharing, staff exchange, training and capacity building.

This trip was primarily focused on collecting plants from the Caucasus which have proved extremely hardy and durable in cultivation across the United States. This trip was timed primarily for spring bulbs, principally members of the genus Corydalis and Galanthus, although, a much wider variety of germplasm was ripe, resulting in more than 100 seed collection numbers. The seeds were germinated in the greenhouses and have been planted in various gardens, adding wild-collected accessions to our living collections. 

Argentina - The Patagonian Steppe

Patagonia is one of four steppe regions worldwide with a climate similar to our Eastern plains. The diverse Patagonia steppe flora is poorly represented in horticulture and could potentially do well in our semi-arid landscapes.

Since 2008, Denver Botanic Gardens has been building relationships with Argentinian officials and local botanic gardens to conduct plant exploration and research in the Patagonian steppe. In 2011 and 2014, Curator of Native Plants Dan Johnson and Curator of Alpine Collections Mike Kintgen went on a plant exploration trip. During this trip, they documented the regional ecology and flora and fauna. In 2015, an agreement was signed between the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA) of Argentina and Denver Botanic Gardens to conduct joint research to identify and promote Patagonian plants to the ornamental industry. 

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