Plants Map fosters new connections at Florida Tech Botanical Garden

TeddyBearPalmWhen Jerome Keuper, founder and former president of theFlorida Institute of Technology, began landscaping the school’s campus in Melbourne, Fla., in the 1960s, he quickly learned how carefully he would need to choose palms to adorn the grounds.

After a particularly harsh winter in 1961, nearly all of the royal palms that had been planted “turned into skinny haystacks,” he wrote.

So he turned to a man named Dent Smith, who had had success growing many varieties of palm in Daytona Beach, about 90 miles north.

That connection between people and plants more than half a century ago laid the foundation for the Florida Tech Botanical Garden, a 20-acre oasis of palms and other tropical plants that winds through the heart of campus.

Today, Holly Chichester, manager of grounds operations for the university, is trying to make sure more people connect with this garden, both to enjoy it and to help maintain and improve it.

One of the tools in her arsenal to achieve that goal is PlantsMap.com.
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Chichester and her team have placed Plants Map’s interactive plant tags and signs along the garden’s Dent Smith Trail, replacing plastic tags that had grown old and weathered.

“The QR code was really intriguing for me, and that has proven to be the case to everybody,” Chichester said. “It’s allowed us to create a better labeling system.”

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Now, Chichester carries her smartphone with her on guided tours of the garden, so that she can show visitors how they can scan the codes on the tags to access individual plant profiles on PlantsMap.com. She has seen students scan the tags as they walk the garden’s trails.

This infusion of technology helps align the botanical garden with Florida Tech’s emphasis on being “high-tech with a human touch.”

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It also provides added functionality in keeping track of the garden’s plant collection, and how it evolves. The Florida Tech Botanical Garden is located in a flood plain of Crane Creek, which winds through it. The ebb and flow of water over the course of the years has taught Chichester a thing or two about what plants can survive here, and she’s watched Mother Nature transplant some species to new locations on the property.

Plants Map, whose mobile-friendly website can be accessed from any device, gives her a place to record these comings and goings.

“It allows us to catalog what we’ve got to keep track of its condition, its quirks. If we have a hurricane, we can make note of that and how it fares,” she said. “The beauty of this program is that we can easily add to it in real time while we’re standing there with shovel in hand.”

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Chichester wants the garden to build connections both on campus and in the wider Melbourne community, to help it gain volunteers and funding that are vital to its future. She is hoping the user-friendly features Plants Map offers will help the garden gain new supporters.

“If I make it more user-friendly in incorporating things like Plants Map and getting people involved—and Plants Map makes it easier to do that,” she said, “it can start to earn its place in the Melbourne area as a destination.”

That way, all the hard work that Keuper and Dent put into establishing this unique collection of plants back in the 1960s can be enjoyed by a new generation.

“It’s just a nice place to stroll through, learn a little bit, relax, meet a friend and have a picnic,” Chichester said. “It’s getting a little bit more visible.”

To learn more, visit the Florida Tech Botanical Garden on Plants Map.