Third party surrogates are all the rage these days. The other day I ran into a bunch of ecology and botany students from the university in the botanical garden, using phone apps to identify plants they did not know. Snap a picture, get a name. Easy. And if the computer could not identify it, oh well, forget it. Move on, its probably not important. Funny. Did you touch the plant? Smell it? Acknowledge its existence as a life form?

The data bases of botanical gardens, and modern day herbariums, have become digitized, following along with all the rest of our society. Yes it is organized and the facts are all there, but the entries to specific plants read like a dismembered body that is scattered and incoherent. A lot of human data was sacrificed for that computer accuracy and efficiency. Basically you fall into an internet spider web with no center, that you click here then there then click some more. It will tell no tales until the circuit is complete, and you go on a walkabout. It does not work because the intermediary between the sun and the plants is a person.

If I was getting to know a collection of plants in the garden, what I want to know would be: Where did it came from, and how did it fare in the field or in the container? Who collected the seed and on what mountain, what time of the year? Was it propagated from seed or cutting or layering? Who did the work of caring for it? What made it special? Did it die of old age, disease, gophers, slugs, or neglect? Was it human or natural causes? How do the species and varieties differ in morphology, in cultivation? And so on.

Here are the plant collection records from our local botanical garden, from about eight years ago. Thank you curators of the past! Plants are listed in an old fashioned manner such that they tell a story. If you are interested in a particular plant genus, use the table of contents to figure out what page it is on, and then scroll to the proper spot in the pdf to read the entry. Its likely the resolution is better if you download the collection document altogether. Then, if you are so inclined, find the beds they lived in, and go looking for them in the garden. Well, heres a start. Off we go on a botanical adventure. First, the A’s and B’s. More to come.

Here’s how the plants came to be in the garden: