Steeped in history, rich with tradition, the United States Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in North America. It highlights the diversity of plants worldwide, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, and ecological importance. Chartered by Congress "... to collect, cultivate, and grow the various vegetable products of this and other countries for exhibition and display to the public...", this significant garden is getting back to its roots. During the late 18th Century it was the dream of a number of key political figures, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, to have a national botanic garden at the seat of government. The garden's first greenhouse was constructed in 1842. Since 1849 the Garden has been located at the eastern end of the Mall. Placed under the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress in 1856, the Garden has been administered through the Office of the Architect of the Capitol since 1934.
The garden is committed to furthering an understanding of the irreplaceable value of plants to humankind and the entire biosphere. The range of activities extends far beyond what first meets the eye. The complex includes the Conservatory and surrounding grounds, the Frederick Auguste Bartholdi Park (named for the designer of the Park's focal point, the Bartholdi Fountain), the three-acre site for The National Garden (west of the Conservatory), and the D.C. Village Production Facility - a nursery and greenhouse range responsible for producing all the USBG plants and those for the entire Capitol Hill complex.
The Garden grows and displays a variety of plants. The staff keeps computerized records on important botanical collections used for exhibition, study and exchange with other institutions. The Garden's noteworthy collections include economic plants, orchids, begonias, carnivorous plants, cacti and succulents, bromeliads, epiphytes, palms, and cycads and ferns set in a Dinosaur Garden. These plants are arranged in attractive displays that provide an educational experience for visitors as well as an opportunity for a respite and to absorb the beauty of nature. The U.S. Botanic Garden also features major flower shows created throughout the year: The Summer Terrace Display, The Annual Chrysanthemum Show, The Annual Poinsettia Show, and The Annual Spring Flower Show. Each show offers visitors a multitude of ideas on new plants, innovative garden design, and up-to-date gardening and botanical information.
Public programs provided by the garden include a series of classes on timely subjects that range from gardening techniques to global environmental concerns. Tours are provided to school children, garden clubs, and interested groups. Special events are sponsored through local and national plant societies, including exhibits, educational programs and plant exchanges. Information on plants is provided by a botanist via a telephone information services and written inquiries.
Through CITES, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the U.S. Botanic Garden serves as plant rescue center. CITES goal is to prevent species from being forced toward extinction by uncontrolled exploitation. When plants are shipped illegally and confiscated, they are often sent to the U.S. Botanic Garden for safe protection. These plants are nurtured and then often brought to the Conservatory for exhibition.
The Conservatory is undergoing major renovations to improve its structural, environmental and visual qualities. Because of its strategic location at the base of the Capitol, the U.S. Botanic Garden is well positioned to educate numerous visitors about the significance of plants in our lives. The National Garden, with its planned Environmental Learning Center, will also equip the U.S. Botanic Garden with the ability to greatly enhance its role in environmental education by providing a living laboratory, a place where visitors can learn through experience and understand the natural world. The United States Botanic Garden is committed to serve the American people as a public facility that, with the continued support of Congress, can fulfill its original charter and attain those goals envisioned by our great forefathers.
© Copyright Thaddeus O. Cooper 1996-2004