How to Read Our Plant Labels
An educational experience
Botanical gardens are considered "living museums," and as such their plant collections need to be correctly identified and documented to serve our goals of display, education, and conservation. Part of this process at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is creating display labels for plants in the Gardens.
We use two sizes of bi-layer, black plastic labels- a small label that is used for perennials and small shrubs, and a larger label that is used for larger shrubs and trees. The information on each label is dictated in part by label size, but also by the type of information we wish to provide to the public.
In general, each label contains the following:
- scientific name (which includes the genus, species and any sub-species or variety names), written in italics
- common name (which may vary from place to place), written in all capitals
The larger labels also contain:
- plant family name (due to size the smaller labels do not contain plant family information), written in all capitals
- if it’s a California native, a small California logo with the word Native
To the right are examples of the two types of display labels you will find in the Gardens and descriptions of each line of information.
For a variety of reasons, not every plant in the Gardens has a display label; it may be a new planting awaiting a label, a duplicate planting of another labeled plant nearby, or it may be unidentified. Gardeners and the Plant Recorder work together to develop labels as needed, balancing our visitor’s desire for information and the aesthetics of the Gardens. In the coming year we will begin to add geographic distribution to the larger display labels of our collection specimens, a process that will take several seasons but will add an important educational component to our labels.
Another label that you may see on some plants in the Gardens is a brown, anodized metal, accession tag. As plants are added to our database they are assigned an accession number and qualifier, e.g., 1999069*A, with the first four digits of the number reflecting the year it was accessioned, the next three the sequence of its entry, and the qualifier symbolizing how many plants are part of that specific accession. These tags are used extensively on shrubs and trees in the Gardens; accession tags are not used on most herbaceous perennials due to their ephemeral nature and the fluidity of the plantings. They are located close to the plant so that they are less visible.
Each accession tag contains the following information:
- accession number and qualifier
- scientific name
- plant family name
The bottom right photo is an example of an accession tag.
Accession tags allow the Gardener or Plant Recorder to track specimens in the ground and record information in the database. At Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens we have maintained a computerized plant records database since the late 1990’s. Beginning in 1999 our plant records were transferred into BG-BASE™, a plant collections management software system used by over 186 institutions in 30 countries, which enables us to track a variety of information about our plants. We hope to provide online access to this database and its associated mapping system BG-MAP™ in the coming year.