Oxford teams up with The Royal Horticultural Society to develop innovative plant data management

The University of Oxford has embarked on a new project with The Royal Horticultural Society, the UK’s gardening charity, to make information about plants more readily available to everyone with an interest in gardens and garden plants.

The vast variety of plants available to buy today is astounding. A good example is Acer which, on its own, has over 1600 cultivars on the database, with over 2000 different Latin names associated with them. This brings with it a unique challenge with a plethora of names that any one cultivated plant may be known by.

In conjunction with Denis Filer and Andrew Liddell from the Department of Plant Sciences, the RHS has developed a novel approach to managing the complexity of plant names using the BRAHMS database system. Developed over the past 25 years for natural history collection management, taxonomic revision and biodiversity research, together with the RHS, this software package has now been adapted to manage the complexity of all the cultivated plant names we encounter.

Over the coming months, the RHS and Oxford University will be working to roll out this new system across the RHS’ names data, herbarium and garden collections as well as using it to supply data to an enhanced RHS website. The approach, which involves ranking the various names a plant has in order to determine what name should be used at what time, closely aligns to the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ISH 2016) and will be available to all BRAHMS users in future releases.

Professor R. George Ratcliffe, Head of the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, said: 'The Department has nurtured the development of BRAHMS over many years and its adoption by the RHS is a wonderful endorsement of the power of the tool for managing botanical names and collection data.'

Sian Tyrrell, RHS Head of Horticultural Information, said: 'This is an exciting time for horticultural information management at the RHS and with the support of colleagues at Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, accessibility and usability of our plant data is coming to the fore.

'Our charity is driven by our desire to support our members and the wider gardening community. The investment put into this new system will greatly benefit everyone and ensure that gardening becomes more accessible and enjoyable.'

Professor Stephen Harris, Druce Curator of Oxford University Herbaria, said: 'BRAHMS is the product of long-term commitment by the Department of Plant Sciences to releasing the research potential of the data contained in botanical collections. The adoption of this software by the RHS affirms BRAHMS’s significant role in the management, analysis and security of global botanical data.'

Dr Philippa Christoforou, BRAHMS Licensing Lead at Oxford University Innovation, said: 'Working with the RHS and applying BRAHMS as its database management system is great news for the gardening community. We are excited to share the new naming system with all BRAHMS users across the botanical world.'