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Core Collections

Our core collections are organized in rectangular beds throughout the interior of the Garden space. Each plant is labeled with its common name, scientific name, plant family, geographic origin, and interpretive text. These plants are grouped into categories that represent a research and teaching focus of the collection. To explore these in the Garden, you can use the Garden Collections Map to orient yourself to the arrangement of beds. 

Photos courtesy of Anna McGuffie.

Core Collections


This collection is arranged according to taxonomic orders and families and is a gateway to understanding plant biodiversity. Observe for yourself whether plants in the same family or order have flowers with the same number of petals or similarities in leaf structure, or whether they differ. What traits can you find that unites different families?


Humans have always relied on plants for everyday needs such as food and shelter, but also for secondary uses such as scents, flavorings, and dyes. Explore this collection to understand more about what parts of plants are used for different needs and see what many of these useful plants actually look like. Useful plants from cultures around the world are included.

Indigenous American Food

Plants in this collection were used by Native Americans for food. You’ll find plants eaten by peoples from many different parts of North and South America, with a focus on plants used by the Anishinaabeg peoples that lived here prior to European settlement.


This collection includes plants that we love to hate. They cause hay fever, give us a rash, poison us if we eat them, poison our milk if eaten by dairy cows, or just plain hurt us if we come into contact with them. Learn how to recognize them, how to avoid them, and marvel at their adaptations.


Our medicinal plant collection highlights plants that are used in treating ailments. Many of these plants have known, well-established uses. Others have a reputation for treating a human condition, but data on efficacy may be lacking or in dispute. Visit this collection to see the diversity of medicinal plants and learn about how they might be used.


Our weed collection highlights plants that have a knack for growing in places where they are unwelcome. They represent weeds of crops, our built environment, and native habitats. Weeds have negative economic, environmental, and/or aesthetic impacts. Identify weeds in your garden, begrudgingly admire their ability to reproduce, and learn about their impacts.


Our vegetable garden highlights food crops and their wild ancestors. Many cultures across the globe are represented. If you’re not familiar with what a Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) plant looks like, or where tomatoes came from, you’ll want to spend time looking through these fascinating plants. 

Thematic Collections

Our thematic collections are not organized into formal beds, but instead are installations found along the periphery of the Garden, on our hillsides, around our pond, along the banks of the Red Cedar River, or against adjoining buildings.

Thematic Collections

Virtual Collections

Our newest collections are our virtual collections. These allow us to group plants that share a similar theme, but are not growing together in the same area of the garden, into one collection. They can be accessed using our Virtual Garden Map.

Virtual Collections