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New Botanical Garden president outlines vision

Peter Wyse Jackson

By Veronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio


St. Louis, MO. – The Missouri Botanical Garden introduced its new president to the public Tuesday.

Peter Wyse Jackson will assume his new post September 1. He replaces long-time Garden president Peter Raven, who's retiring.

Wyse Jackson said under his leadership, the Garden will enter a new era, but will also maintain "business as usual."

"The institution isn't broke, so we don't need to fix it," Wyse Jackson said. "We'll build on the achievements and the strengths, because I've been really impressed by what I've seen in the institution."

Wyse Jackson heads the National Botanic Garden in Dublin, Ireland. Like Raven, he is an international advocate for plant conservation.

Here is is an extended version of the interview.

PETER WYSE JACKSON: One of the things about the garden is it has had a very clear vision of what its role is in understanding plants, in spreading knowledge about plants, and then helping to cherish and nurture them, to conserve them around the world, and that is something which I want to build on and help enhance in the future. I will bring, I think, new elements to the vision, particularly from my work with botanic gardens around the world, and I hope that I can really bring added value of enhancing already wonderful programs to even greater heights.
VERONIQUE LACAPRA: Under the direction of Dr. Peter Raven, conservation, preserving plant diversity world-wide, has been a major part of the garden's mission. I know that conservation has also been a priority in your own work. What conservation-related projects to you have planned for the garden in the future?
WYSE JACKSON: At this stage, it's too early to give specifics, but I am increasingly aware that we need to understand the conservation biology of species. We need to know what makes plants tick. Why are they dying out in different regions? And it's often a complex mixture of different reasons. It may be that the pollinations have disappeared; it may be that they're genetically too inbred; it may be that their habitats have disappeared, and I think one of the areas in which I'd like to see us expanding more and more is into conservation biology, understanding the mechanisms for how plant populations are going to do well and be self-sustaining in the future.
LACAPRA: What about climate change? That's obviously one of the big issues of our time and is having an impact already on species. What do you see as the role of the garden in climate change?
WYSE JACKSON: I think the garden has a very significant role to play in climate change: understanding the impact of climate change on plant diversity. What plants are we going to lose as climate changes? It also has to play a role in ensuring we can monitor, for example, biological invasions. We will get new pests and diseases arriving. The garden can be an early warning system for those and also to spread public awareness of not only those threats but how people can address climate change itself.
LACAPRA: What about education? In terms of outreach to the local community here in St. Louis, what plans do you have for that part of the garden's work?
WYSE JACKSON: I'm a great believer in the educational role of the botanic garden and enhancing it. The traditional approach for many botanic gardens has simply been to provide information about plants. I would love to see us increasingly being, in the garden, advocates for plants and plant-based issues. Not education about, but education for - for the environment. Now, that has already made great steps forward. I think we need to increasingly build into our education programs, the garden's emphasis on sustainability, and how plants are an essential part of sustainable living. We don't want to take the fun out of the garden, but equally, we need to insure that visitors who come to the garden leave with a message that they can play an important role in being sustainable in their own lives and ensuring that our plant resources survive.


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