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John Manion

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Research Project

Referencing botanical nomenclature at public gardens.
View Thesis (PDF, 319.24 KB)

There exists among and within public gardens in the United State and Canada a degree of confusion and frustration related to the inconsistencies, and relatively frequent changes in botanical names. I decided to conduct an online survey to explore exactly why these inconsistencies exist and how the issue of name changes is approached. Using various means (list serves, individual invitations, newsletter posting), my survey was distributed to numerous public gardens in the U.S. and Canada. 56 usable surveys were completed and returned. My hope was that from the answers to the 30 questions I asked, I would be able to discern some of the reasons behind the inconsistencies and how some public gardens deal with changes in plant nomenclature. Before synthesizing the results of the survey, I had strongly suspected that few gardens had set policies in place for referencing botanical names and dealing with name changes. My suspicions were confirmed when examining the survey results. By gaining insight into these issues, I was able to formulate a set of recommendations that might, to some degree, ameliorate these problems.

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John is the Garden Curator of the Kaul Wildflower Wildflower Garden at the Birmingham Botanical Garden.


John believes that the seeds that grew into his unflagging passion for plants were sown during his childhood. Growing up in rural upstate NY afforded him the opportunity to be constantly involved with nature and gardening. As his parents were gardeners and lovers of nature, John's family frequently spent time outdoors. His father, who was a NY State Forester, regularly took him to woodlands and fields where he taught John about various plants, while his mother taught him about the beauty of flowers and the joy of growing vegetables.

Before John fully recognized his passion for plants, he had engaged in many different kinds of work, travelled to several areas of the world, and lived in numerous parts of the United States. Most recently he spent 14 years in the medical profession, primarily as an Emergency/Trauma Nurse. After spending several years on the West Coast (California and Alaska), John returned to his hometown of Herkimer, N.Y. and earned a bachelor degree in Plant Science/Horticulture from SUNY Cobleskill. As an undergraduate, John was the recipient of several awards and honors, a tutor of plant science courses, and served as adjunct faculty to teach a semester-long class on herbaceous plants. A requirement of his undergraduate program was to complete a 3-month internship. John instead applied for, and was accepted as a yearlong Curatorial Intern at the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College near Philadelphia. At the completion of his internship, John was invited by the Scott Arboretum to stay for an additional seven months in a temporary full-time position as the Special Projects Coordinator. During this job, some of his responsibilities included conducting a membership survey and working on designing fundraising projects. John says that his time spent working at the Scott Arboretum was not only incredibly fulfilling, but also excellent exposure to, and involvement in the many facets of public garden management.

Regarding his public garden career, John's primary areas of interest are collections curation, plant records, and education/interpretation. He has a particular interest in botanical nomenclature, a subject on which he has developed an adaptable presentation that he continues to refine. John is considering as his graduate thesis, a study of the many ways public gardens use botanical nomenclature and the manner in which they make decisions about and implement nomenclatural changes. John believes this topic is especially applicable because of the increased frequency with which plants are reclassified due to the more sophisticated tools taxonomists now have at their disposal. John holds memberships in numerous plant-related societies and organizations.

Becoming involved with the Cornell Plantations volunteer program has brought John much satisfaction, and he recently gave a presentation to his fellow volunteers on botanical nomenclature. He will give a presentation based on the same subject this fall during the Plantations Seminar Series.

Other interests of John include classical music, travel, cooking, and drinking good red wine!