Evolution Garden – the green time machine
The Evolution Garden is the scientific heart of Utrecht University Botanic Gardens and tells the story of the evolutionary lineage of the plant kingdom – a lineage that goes back hundreds of millions of years. Central to the Evolution Garden are examples of the oldest flowering plants still present today: magnolias and water lilies.
The garden was originally intended for educational purposes. In this and other similar gardens, biology students used to study and learn about the relationships between various plant species, genera and families. In recent years, the Evolution Garden has been increasingly used for this type of education. The garden is also a source of living material for (laboratory) experiments.
The Cronquist system
Originally, the Evolution Garden was set up according to the classification system developed by the American botanist Arthur Cronquist. In order to determine the evolutionary relationships between plants, he mainly used secondary plant metabolites in addition to morphology. These metabolites are substances that the plant produces itself, but which do not play a role in the primary metabolism.
In recent decades, however, research into the development and evolution of plants has advanced rapidly. For example, DNA research has shown that Cronquist’s classification is incorrect in many respects. The time has come to implement a new classification system in the Evolution Garden!
Time for a new classification system
Textbooks and other botanical literature have already moved on to a new system, but it is clear that this it is quite a bit more challenging to transform an existing Evolution Garden to a new system of classification. It requires a lot of expertise, a sound plan, time, and funding.
The current Evolution Garden, formerly called the System Garden, has served biology students, as well as local, national and international visitors very well for 32 years and will remain accessible for the time being. Meanwhile, a plan and a design are being created for a new, more future-proof Evolution Garden at a new location in the Botanic Gardens. In this design, the main division of plant groups is visualized using repeating patterns (fractals), to illustrate the never ending process of evolution. The new garden will lead visitors from the beginning of the evolution of plants up to today. The construction of the new garden and the relocation of the plants and trees will start in the winter of 2021-2022.
The design, relocation, and construction of an Evolution Garden is no small undertaking and will be carried out in phases. The work will start with the excavation, construction, and preparation of the new site for the foundations of the Evolution Garden. Afterwards, planting will begin and the basic structure of the garden will already be visible. The garden can then be used for teaching. At the same time, work will be done on the more specific and detailed layout of the fractals and on the public information in the garden. Then, the garden will also be open to the general public.
About the design
As mentioned above, an innovative design was chosen based on fractals: mathematical patterns that can be infinitely zoomed in on as the pattern keeps repeating itself. The “fractals” in the new Evolution Garden represent the notion that evolution never stops as long as there is life, and that the processes of speciation and extinction continue indefinitely. This unique concept for the Evolution Garden has been developed by landscape architects from Hemelse Natuur in cooperation with Utrecht University’s Botanic Gardens.
Many animal and plant species are losing their natural habitat or disappear altogether due to the effects of climate change. The consequences of this loss of biodiversity are enormous. It is therefore not only important that society knows this, but also that there is a greater appreciation of biodiversity and the process that led to this: evolution. That is why the Utrecht Botanic Gardens are developing a new Evolution Garden, where our scientists will also study the development of plants and biodiversity. Your donation will contribute to the coming about of the Evolution Garden.