ArcWatch: Your e-Magazine for GIS News, Views, and Insights

August 2010

UC Davis Arboretum Instrumental in Coordinating Public Garden GIS Alliance

Public Gardens Grow Research Capability with GIS

Public gardens come in many forms including arboreta, botanical gardens, zoos, display gardens, entertainment gardens, historical landscapes and sites, and nature gardens. These gardens serve to connect visitors with nature, provide researchers with insight, and preserve plant species. Geographic information system (GIS) technology is helping community garden managers inventory, maintain, and manage their plant collections.

photo of the UC Davis Arboretum

The UC Davis Arboretum Mediterranean Collection (Photo by Allan Jones)

By Barbara Shields, Esri Writer

The flora of gardens is rooted in geography.

That's why the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Arboretum uses GIS software to catalog and map more than 30,000 plants. The arboretum's staff also used GIS from Esri to create a Web application to let visitors wander online through its lush gardens.

GIS helps the arboretum keep track of and maintain its plant collection and facilities, as well as help visitors, students, and researchers explore the gardens that encompass 100 acres of the California campus. This program has been very successful.

UC Davis has also been instrumental in growing a consortium called the Alliance for Public Gardens GIS (APGG), an endeavor funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. APGG, an organization of more than 75 botanical gardens and zoos, is developing GIS standards for managing garden collections at an enterprise level. Some of its notable project partners include the San Diego Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

An outcome of APGG's effort is the ArcGIS Botanical Garden and Zoological Park Data Model, which is an open source template designed for ArcGIS software. It helps community gardens jump-start their GIS so they can easily map their plant collections and facilities. This important work will help increase the use and value of botanical collections and their role in plant conservation and education worldwide.

UC Davis Arboretum's GIS project provides an online, interactive mapping tool that offers search capabilities. Web site visitors can search for plants by name or by characteristics and see images of plants. It's a wonderful research tool that allows people to link to scientific papers about selected species. They locate a plant in the arboretum and print their own maps for customized tours of the garden that highlight their particular points of interest.

Arboretum visitors will see many types of trees, shrubs, and flowers that grow in harmony with the local climate. The Mediterranean Collection features plants that grow well in California's Central Valley. These are arrayed on a curving hillside around a scenic lagoon. The Australian Collection displays towering eucalyptus trees. The California Foothill Collection includes valley oaks and native currants and gooseberries. Growing in the Conifer Collection are cone-bearing trees such as pines, cedars, firs, and other evergreens native to Japan, Europe, Mexico, and North America. A Desert Collection, East Asian Collection, acacia grove, and many other plant habitats provide visitors with opportunities to connect with nature.

web map of the redwood tree collection

This Web map shows redwood tree locations and provides specific species information.

Brian Morgan, the arboretum's GIS manager, explains the research value of the GIS mapping application built on Esri's ArcGIS Server. "Scientists, faculty, and students research our collections. The system allows them to locate plants and easily access information about genetic backgrounds and relationships. The Web application is linked to Google Scholar and Google Images. The user can click on the link, see images of a particular plant, and read scholarly articles and research papers about that particular plant."

The project started in 2005 when Morgan implemented ArcGIS. Within three years, university interns and staff had captured geographic location data for a geodatabase inventory of 30,000 different plants living within the arboretum's 100 acres. They used a Trimble ProXH GPS receiver, a laser range finder, and ArcPad software to capture plant attributes and coordinates. Some plants, such as wildflowers, were grouped and located within a polygon, while others, such as trees, were recorded as individual features.

Once the geodatabase was complete, the team was able to create map books. This was done using MapLogic Layout Manager, which is an ArcGIS extension from MapLogic Corporation. It generates a professional-looking map book with key and locator maps, indexes, page numbering, and more.

Using an ArcGIS Server out-of-the-box template for making Web applications, the GIS team performed basic tool customizations tailored to what the arboretum needed for the Web site. Once it was up and running, users and evaluators made further suggestions for improving tools on the site.

"We were able to easily add functionality to the Web site," notes Morgan. "It took us about two hours to create an access tool to another geodatabase about California native species information as well as add it to the search tool. We will continue to make changes as we go along. For instance, we want to add editing capability for our own staff. We also want to link the system to our work order system, which would then be accessible via mobile devices. We have more to do, and our GIS is making this possible."

Visit the UC Davis Arboretum Web site. Download the ArcGIS Botanical Garden and Zoological Park Data Model for free at the Alliance for Public Gardens GIS Web site at

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