The plant collection of the Alpine garden is located in the Jardin des Plantes, a historical site of the Muséum. In the heart of the city, visitors can see species that naturally only grow in a mountain environment.


Alpine garden
The plant collection of the Alpine garden is located in the Jardin des Plantes, a historical site of the Muséum. In the heart of the city, visitors can see species that naturally only grow in a mountain environment.

Presentation/History
Although this type of garden is known as a rock garden in the Anglo-Saxon world, in France it has been called a “jardin alpin” (“Alpine garden”) since the start of the 20th century, when French explorers and botanists brought back the first samples of plants taken from the Alps mountain range, thus providing the first specimens collections presented in new gardens: in the Alpine gardens. The name has stayed, but nowadays the Muséum’s Alpine garden has a collection of plants from all the mountain environments in the world.

There had been a few previous attempts to grow mountain Alpine plants at the Muséum, but they were unsuccessful. The project for a real Alpine garden was mainly devised by three people who understood that these plants needed a special cultivation method to survive and grow in the city. André Guillaumin, a systematician and gardener who was the first last person to occupy the Muséum’s Culture chair, suggested creating an alpinum in 1932. This took shape on site thanks to the work of Camille Guinet, head of the Alpine Garden square, and Mariska Heklova, who joined the Muséum in 1924. They recreated a layout similar to the real-life mountain environment (with rocks and streams) instead of arranging the plants in borders as was the case for systematic displays in the botanic garden before. The plants are grouped by biogeographical area, which was a novelty at the time. The collection is mainly based around the seed and plant samples taken by Guinet and Heklova. Some specimens also come from harvests conducted during expeditions, particularly those in Greenland and Lapland in 1935. Others come from donations by private individuals, for instance the 400 seeds from the Himalayas donated by an explorer in the early 1950s.

The garden now covers 4,000 m2 and contains around 2,500 000 species. Each living collection is constantly evolving. Every year, 250 to 300 new plants species are added to replace the plants that died in the previous year.

Research
Since its creation, the Muséum’s Alpine garden collection has had three main aims. The first two are the educational and aesthetic aspects that aim to raise public awareness of mountain flora and its protection, by offering a display resembling the plants’ natural environment. The collection’s other aim is of course a scientific one. When the Alpine garden was created, research focussed on practical subjects like fodder crops and the pharmacopeia. Later on, this research moved into other areas such as the observation of how these plants evolved in an urban environment.

The Alpine garden’s collection provides an ideal opportunity study to see plants that few of us would normally have a chance to observe in their natural environment, since they all come from mountain zones and distant lands for some of them !