Glossary of Terms

Explanation of terms used in the Botanic Garden

Term Meaning
BGCI Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is ‘an international organization that exists to ensure the worldwide conservation of threatened plants, the continued existence of which are intrinsically linked to global issues including poverty, human well-being and climate change’. Botanic Gardens Conservation International, (BGCI) accessed 25.3.13
Biodiversity Biodiversity is a term developed in 1985 to refer to the diversity or variety of living plants, animals and micro-organisms. Biodiversity has become a conservation issue as natural habitats have been damaged or lost.The Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as:  ‘The variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. The BGCI says ‘Biodiversity is the full complexity and variety of life, at all scales, from genetic diversity, up to species and even ecosystem diversity.’Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13;  Natural England accessed 7.08.13;  BGCI accessed 25.3.13
Botanic Garden ‘Botanic gardens are institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purpose of scientific research, conservation, display and education.’, accessed 25.3.13
Botanist Someone who studies botany.  The term dates back to the seventeenth century.  Today those who study plants are usually known as plant scientists.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Botanise The verb ‘to botanise’ means to look for plants specifically for the purpose of studying them botanically.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Botany Botany is one of two schools of biological science that focuses on plants.  The other school of biological science is zoology, which studies animals. See Plant Science.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Chronological Bed In 1958, John Gilmour, Director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, devised the Chronological Bed as a ‘timeline’ border of herbaceous plants planted according to their introduction into Britain from the Roman period through the Age of Discover (15th – 17th centuries) to the present day.  This linear bed allows visitors to discover when plants, used medicinally, as economic crops and those of horticultural interest were introduced.
Climate Change Climate change was a term coined in the mid- to late-twentieth century to describe the alteration in both regional and global climate which has been linked to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Dry Garden The concept of a dry garden developed from environmental concerns about water resources and the use of water by gardeners in parts of Britain, such as Cambridgeshire, where the rainfall levels are falling.
Cambridge University Botanic Garden Dry Garden. Beth Chatto’s Dry Garden RHS Roy Lancaster in conversation with Beth Chatto about her dry garden
Ecological Mound In 1962, John Gilmour, director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden created an ‘Ecological Mound’, also known as the Limestone MoundThis feature was designed to display the variety of British wild plants that grow in chalky or limestone (calcareous soils), to highlight the threat to native British wild plants with the changing use of agricultural land, as well as the need to preserve and nurture rare species of their future survival.
Environment There are several meanings of the term the environment.  It is often used to refer to ‘natural world or physical surroundings in general’.  This may refer to the whole planet or to a specific area.  Environment may also refer to the conditions that affect life.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Fen Display The Fen Display was created as a teaching resource for students at Cambridge University.  It was renovated in 2003 and presents plants that can be found in this unusual ecosystem. See Fenland Plants and The Fens.
Fenland Plants Typical Fenland plants include the Fen Carr, the Reed Phragmites, Reed Mace Typha and Purple Loosestrife.  Others species are rare or extinct in the wild, such as the Cambridge Milk Parsley and the Fen Ragwort. Large areas of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire are known as the Fens.  A fen is low-lying land that is wholly or partially covered with shallow water.  It is known in other regions as a marsh.This landscape has its own ecosystem with a range of flora and fauna.  The dramatic loss of Fenland due to major drainage of the rivers Ouse and Nene, led to the call for protection of habitats in nature reserves.  The National Trust created its first nature reserve, the 53-square kms Wicken Fen, in 1899.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 26.3.13
Fens The Fens are an area of low-lying East Anglian wetlands, particularly in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.  Because of the watery habitat, the Fens have a distinctive flora and fauna.  Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire was the National Trust’s first Nature Reserve to be created in Britain in 1899.  Wicken is still owned and managed by the National Trust and has over 8,400 recorded species.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13;
Wicken Fen,, accessed 25.3.13
Flora A flora is a botanical catalogue of plants from a geographical area or period.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Gardenesque The term ‘gardenesque’ was first used by John Claudius Loudon in 1838 to describe something with ‘the character of a garden’.  The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says ‘somewhat resembling a garden or what belongs to a garden’.  In the 19th century, the term referred to a school of gardening that differed from the irregular style of ‘picturesque’ in that emphasis was given to regular displays of trees and other plants individually, rather than as a landscape.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Genetics Garden The study of plant genetics has a long history although it was previously known as hybridization. It was William Bateson, a Cambridge zoologist who coined the term ‘genetics’ at the beginning of the 20th century. Bateson and a team of enthusiastic collaborators – including Edith Saunders and R C Punnett – established the first genetics experimental garden in one of the allotments in the eastern section of the Botanic Garden. The Genetics Garden was devised by Professor John Parker in the 1990s.  The garden displays the variation of plants achieved through experimentation with different combinations to produce stronger, more pest-resistant crops.
Genus A genus is a classification group including a number of species.  It possesses certain common structural characteristics that distinguish it from other groups.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Glasshouse / Greenhouse A glasshouse or a greenhouse is a building with walls and roof made predominantly out of glass. In botanic gardens, the term glasshouse is commonly used.  A glasshouse enables the cultivation and display of plants that require specific climatic conditions in order to thrive outside their natural environment. For example, tropical plants which require a hot and humid climate throughout the year.  A glasshouse may also be used to encourage growth at faster rates. Botanic Gardens in the United Kingdom are famed for the dramatic architecture and collection of exotic species grown within glasshouses. See the website for further information about the CUBG; The Glasshouse range
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Greenhouse effect Greenhouse effect is used in atmospheric physics and environmental science to describe the process through which atmospheric gases – water, carbon dioxide, methane etc – absorb infrared heat and affect the temperate of the climate.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Greenhouse gases The term greenhouse gases refers to atmospheric gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapour, which are believed to be contributing to the ‘greenhouse effect’, causing the atmosphere to heat up at an accelerated rate.   It does not refer to greenhouses or glasshouses per se, rather it is a metaphor of the atmosphere being a glasshouse in which atmospheric gases are contained. Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Herbarium A Herbarium is ‘a collection of dried plants systematically arranged.’  Plants in Herbaria collections are pressed, dried and mounted onto record sheets.  These record sheets indicate details such as characteristics, flowering and pollination, and are used by researchers for taxonomy,  ecology and conservation. There are two Herbaria at Cambridge University.  The largest and most internationally recognized of these is the Cambridge University Herbarium.  There are over 1 million plants within the collection.  This now resides in the purpose-built facilities within the Sainsbury Laboratory, adjacent to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.  The Herbarium’s collections date from 1703 and include specimens brought back by Charles Darwin on the ‘Beagle’ expedition. The Botanic Garden’s Herbarium is a more modest one with around 15,000 specimens gathered as a record of the Garden’s plants. Neither of the two Herbaria are open to the public, however they maybe visited by prior arrangement.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Medicinal Plants Plants that have healing or curative properties.  Plants and herbs have been used in medicine since ancient times.  Today plant-derived material is still used as the basis for many pharmaceutical drugs.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 26.3.13
National Collections of Plants The National Plant Collections® Register is held by the garden plant conservation charity, Plant Heritage, (formerly the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG).The National Plant Collections® are described as ‘living libraries’ of individual species.   Records are kept on the Demeter® Project database.  The mission of Plant Heritage is ‘Conservation through Cultivation’,  in order to encourage the conservation of cultivated plants in the British Isles.There are nine National Plant Collections®
Cambridge University Botanic Garden National Plant Collections.  These include Alchemilla, Fritillaria, Lonicera, Ruscus, Tulipa, Bergenia, Geranium, Ribes and Saxifraga.
Picturesque During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a landscape or a view might be described as ‘picturesque’, as being scenic or having the qualities of a picture.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Picturesque gardening This is an eighteenth and nineteenth specialist horticultural term which refers to the styling of garden to resemble a picture.  ‘A romantic style of gardening, aiming at irregular and rugged beauty.’ The aim of picturesque is to produce the appearance of wild natural landscapes. Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Plant Conservation Plant conservation or ‘biodiversity conservation’ refers to attempts to conserve the natural complexity and variety of life.
Plant Genetics Genetics is the scientific study of the inherited variation in living organisms.  Studies in plant genetics are able to shed light on the workings of the human body as well as other living organisms.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Plant Growth Facility The Plant Growth Facility is situated in a private section of the Botanic Garden.  It is a building dedicated to growing plants in controlled environments or growth cabinets.
Plant Science Plant Science is a modern term for the scientific study of plants using technology. The terms botany and plant science are interchangeable.
Public Engagement Public engagement is a term used to described ‘the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public’.  Public engagement involves communicating ideas and activities to enable understanding.
Rock Garden Gardens containing rockeries and planted with alpine plants or plants that naturally grow in rocky areas became popular in Britain during the nineteenth century.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Scented Garden The Scented, or Sensory Garden was designed to be enjoyed by all visitors but especially those with visual impairments or other disabilities.  Plants are especially selected for their scent or their textures.
Sustainability In the 1980s the term sustainability began to be applied to environmental sustainability.  This refers to ‘the degree to which a process or enterprise is able to be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources.  The Journal of the Royal Society of Arts (July 495/2), stated:  ‘Sustainability in the management of both individual wild species and ecosystems…is critical to human welfare. ’The Botanic Garden has adopted a sustainable approach to its practice of horticulture.  This holistic approach includes limiting the amounts of chemicals used, recycling where possible and encouraging natural pest control in the garden. Rising to the challenge of limited water supplies, the Dry Garden was developed in 1997 with a small grant from Cambridge Water Company.  The drought-tolerant plants in the Dry Garden have never been watered.
Oxford English Dictionary online:, accessed 25.3.13
Tertiary Trees The term Tertiary Trees refer to a group of trees, such as the Manna Ash, Fraxinus ornus, and the Hop Hornbeam, Ostrya carpinifolia (Betulaceae, Birch Family) that thrived in Britain during the Tertiary period, approximately 65.5 to 2.6 million years ago. These trees were planted in the 1950s by John Gilmour, director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden between 1951- 1973.  Gilmour was concerned about the disappearance of these and other deciduous trees that became extinct in Britain during the ice ages.  Once native to the British Isles, these trees were unable to make a natural return during the present interglacial climate. It was a desire to establish a major Tree Collection  or arboretum, that motivated John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany (1825-1861), to seek out a new location for the original eighteenth century city centre Physic Garden.
Wild plants British Wild Plants have been preserved in the Botanic Garden since the 1960s.  British wild plants are native British flora which grow in a range of habitats.  Due to the chalky or calcareous soil of Cambridge, the Cambridge University Botanic Garden specializes in plants that tolerate limestone soil.