Peter Wyse Jackson prepares to tend the Missouri Botanical Garden
To mark 2010's designation as the International Year of Biodiversity, the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland commissioned a 50-foot-long banner titled "Interconnected Earth," showing how everything from a grain of pollen to a blue whale are all related through the double helix of DNA.
As Peter Wyse Jackson, the director of the Irish garden, prepares to move to St. Louis as head of the Missouri Botanical Garden , he says that teaching that message of fragile interconnectedness will be both an opportunity and a responsibility that he takes seriously.
Peter Wyse Jackson
Born June 7, 1955, Kilkenny, Ireland
Married with three children, ages 21, 18 and 14
Ph.D. from the University of Dublin, 1984, on research in plant taxonomy
Program director, then secretary general, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, 1993-2005
Director, National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, 2005 to the present
(Photo by Dale Singer | Beacon staff)
"If an institution like this fails in what we need to do to protect the environment," Wyse Jackson told a news conference at the garden's Ridgway Center Tuesday, "future generations will not be able to enjoy the natural resources we have been given."
Wyse Jackson will take over Sept. 1 as president of the Missouri Botanical Garden, succeeding Peter Raven, whose career at the garden has spanned nearly 40 years. Raven will work with Wyse Jackson until next July when he will move into more of an advisory role.
In response to a request from the Beacon, garden officials said Thursday that Wyse Jackson will receive an annual salary of $225,000. In addition, he will live with his family in the director's residence and receive "other items of compensation and benefits commensurate with his position."
Raven will continue to receive his current salary of $367,000 as he assists with Wyse Jackson's transition as director and also works on special projects, officials said.
In an interview before Tuesday's news conference, Wyse Jackson talked not only of the interconnectedness of living organisms but the inextricable link among missions such as education, conservation, research and leisure, which he said were at the heart of institutions like the garden.
Asked if he could place a priority on one over the others, he likened them to the legs of a table: "If one of the legs is cut off, the table topples."
"I don't think you can set priorities," he added. "It's the balance that's so important."
Wyse Jackson also talked about the importance of what is called biodiversity informatics: the importance of collecting complete information about the plant world and its species.
"The bottom line is that we don't even know how many plants there are in the world," he said. "So we really don't know what species are endangered. If we want to move forward with programs to appreciate them, we need to have the basic information."
And which of those plants moves his heart, does he count among his favorites? His immediate response: "The Mauritius bellflower," (left) which has figured into his botanical research.
Asked about his vision for the garden and how it might change in the coming years, Wyse Jackson noted that a strong strategic plan is already in place, adding:
"It's quite difficult to second-guess what the garden will be like in 20 years time. I think that increasingly, institutions like this will be key in guiding and influencing global policy."
He expanded on that theme at the news conference, talking of how the garden has been respected worldwide for its environmental work, as well as the strength of its horticulture and its public displays.
"Anyone involved in botanical gardens around the world looks on the Missouri Botanical Garden as one of the leading lights," he said.
Calling himself a "keen field botanist," Wyse Jackson said he hopes to explore plants native to Missouri.
He said he looks forward to enhancing programs, not canceling them, and while he understands that money is always a factor, he does not want it to be one that hampers the garden's growth.
"There is never enough money to achieve everything you want to do," he said, "but you can't use the excuse of a lack of funding for inaction."
Wyse Jackson also expressed admiration for Raven and the work he has done at the garden.
"Peter Raven has been part of the garden for 40 years," he said, "and he will be part of the garden in the future for as long as the garden is here."
For his part, Raven told the news conference -- in his well-known, no-nonsense style -- that he looks forward to continuing to work to improve the public's knowledge of threats to the environment, even in the face of what he called "imbecilic remarks" about the research on global warming.
Noting the difference in names between the Missouri Botanical Garden and the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Raven said he had looked up both words in the Oxford English Dictionary and found that botanic is an archaic form of botanical -- adding, "so there."
And Raven said he intends to remain in St. Louis after his full-time duties at the garden are finished, at a home his family has in Wildwood.
"I knew when I got my star on the Walk of Fame that I was probably fated to be buried here," he said, "and that's fine with me."
Contact Beacon staff writer Dale Singer.