plants are also evolving, discover the Garden of Evolution in Nancy, a great place to visit

If I say evolution to you, what do you think? I Darwin? To his theory of evolution? Did you know that this theory applies to both animals and plants? In the botanical garden of Nancy, a space is completely devoted to the development of flowers.

From 30 May to 3 June, an international symposium on evolution was held at the Jean-Marie Pelt Botanical Gardens in Villèrs-lès-Nancy. The event passed relatively unnoticed, and the event, with a scientific calling, brought together the crème de la crème of botanists from around the world to take stock of knowledge related to the evolution of the plant world. Only one conference was open to the public.

Why Nancy, as the choice of such a conference? Firstly, because botanical gardening has made evolution its theme for the year: “How to handle evolution in botanical gardens, natural history museums and cultural centers”. But also and above all because the garden boasts a large space dedicated to the development of flowering plants.

Let us discover this space “the garden of evolution” in the company of Sébastien Antoine, the scientific leader of the garden. The botanist gardener, who had already guided us in the collection of lilacs, swims like a fish in the water to evoke the garden of evolution. It must be said that this space is sort of straight out of his mind. He claims the title of conductor of the Evolution Garden Evolution Project. Even though he is not the last to highlight the work of all his colleagues who participated in the adventure. For there really was one.

Botanical scholars began during their inventory of plants around the world to give names to plants, then sought to classify them by family. To do this, they relied on observation, first looking for similarities between the plants tested and then focusing on the differences. We thus determined the families (by equality) then the genera and species (by difference). The first plant classification systems were born during the 18th century. Three to four different types of placements bearing the names of their famous designers are popping up. They agree on a large majority of hierarchy of flora and differed in the margin. Botanical gardens use these classifications to promote botanical knowledge. Some gardens use it as a base to create space.

The Botanical Garden of Montet, named after Jean-Marie-Pelt, chose its systematic classification: Arthur Cronquists, classification created in 1968 and revised in 1988 in the light of the scientific knowledge of the time.

Except, wham, thanks to genetic research and DNA sequencing; we see that plants of the same family, according to the classifications in use, are sometimes false brothers, or even not cousins. The rankings are collapsing and everything needs to be reviewed. In 1998, a new and unique classification emerged, based on plant DNA and recognized by all scientists: Angiosperm Philogeny Group (APG) system. System, which today in 2022 is in its version IV.

If you’ve been following me so far, congratulations!

What I come to is that the Botanical Garden, like any good teacher with self-respect, had a space dedicated to plant families and their development. But if the whole hierarchy changes, their presentation in the park will be distorted. It gets a little stuck in the corners when the referee presents a faulty system.

This is where Sébastien Antoine comes into play. He agrees, not without a hint of ruthlessness, to carry out the development project in the Garden of Evolution. He does not imagine the scope of the task. To those who advise him to shave everything to redo everything, he is against a great determination and chooses the compromise. We do not erase the world before, we have to make it evolve. The key word is to adapt. Beautiful abyss.

Thus began a project that lasted several years and which took the tenacious botanist gardener and his team far beyond their area of ​​expertise. It is certainly necessary to review the planters’ plan to reclassify them according to the new classification, but it is necessary to review the markings, downtimes, design the explanatory panels, imagine and have the facilities carried out (in collaboration with AFPIA Est- north of Liffol -le-Grand in the Vosges, ENSTIB in Epinal, and even Cascadeur’s participation in the botanist’s podcast course in the photos below). All with the limitations of the terrain and the whims of the weather.

Above all, it is necessary to adapt and take into account the living. If the flowers and shrubs can be moved, it is not the same for the trees. Their presence in the midst of the great “dejardinage” becomes even more incoherent. This is one of the many challenges that needed to be overcome. As a good nature lover, there is no doubt for Sébastien to cut down on these witnesses to the history of the garden, even though they no longer have their place in the new score of evolution. Pyt, he assigns them a pretext function, and here they now reign in the four corners of the garden of evolution, marking the four thematic spaces and distributing their protective shadow to visitors.

Sébastien Antoine has two goals: to create the garden of evolution a destination for the public and offer one didactic path. The bet is successful: visitors who previously crossed the place a bit without noticing it are now lingering and sunbathing there. And for those who want it, they are going to gather just the right amount of information on plant development to find their way enlightened without being overwhelmed.

The residents of Nancy, who are proud to show their city to passing tourists, take them to one of the most beautiful places in the city, all in the heart of the park. The window open from the peak of the garden is a must.

It also has the advantage of being able to breathe after the small climb, especially in Sébastien Antoine’s energetic pace!

A work on the boundaries between playing with musical chairs, the direction of a philharmonic orchestra and the creation of a complete color chart, intended for a painter’s palette. All topped off with a tone of poetry. No wonder Sébastien Antoine is burning in his explanations. After remembering the whole story of this impressive project, he walks the paths of the garden of evolution. He shows here, the zone intended for the rest of the visitors in seats in the form of chromosomes. There are the huge puffs in the form of down duvets adorned with botanical planks and placed in the shade or in the sun, for the lazy. Elsewhere, finally the dome of the amphitheater, in the form of a pollen grain, where exhibitions, concerts and shows are held depending on the season of the garden.

The other botanists are surprised by the project manager: “How did you do?“in view of the magnitude of the task. A before and after, imagined in the rules of science, while preserving nature, leaving more than one stunned. For besides the trees preserved in spite of their inadequacies, enormous spaces have been restored, restore soil protection and less work for gardeners by avoiding weeding. Solutions found thanks to a well-laid pragmatism combined with a constant passion for plants, their history, their peculiarities, their aesthetics, … “I could easily talk a quarter of an hour about each plant; there is something to tellexclaims the tireless Sébastien Antoine.

And he does not hesitate, bombards me with explanations about Apiales, which brings together the families Araliaceae and Apiaceae, about the history of Decaisnea farvesiif, which bears the three names of the plant’s discoverers and initiators; on Lorraine Thalictrum, sold by the granddaughter of the Nancy geneticist – and nonetheless passionate about botany – Lucien Cuénot, on the elaiosom of this seed, to the so-called ant microliferous spread because it is propagated by the ants, duped by the resemblance of the seed to their larvae, or on the name of the ink plant that caused many children to crush these flowers to find the ink they were supposed to contain.

Today, 1,200 plant species are presented in this space of more than two hectares, dedicated to evolution. 44 orders of plants are represented there. Perennials, but also annuals, which vary the gardener’s pleasures.

The strength of the botanical garden is to have everything necessary in the seed shop’s refrigerators available to preserve and vary the plantations in the light of contemporary knowledge. It thus arouses the interest of colleagues from other places who come here to pick up ideas for reproducing in other botanical gardens.

The circle is complete. The life cycle is renewed and adapted during evolution.

Leave a Comment