Understanding the difference between accession and plant material

The management of botanical collections involves various terms, such as "accession" and "plant material." It is important to understand the distinction between these two concepts to help you get the most out of Hortis and your collection management.

This article explains the key differences between accessions and plant material and their significance within botanic garden collections.


An accession refers to a distinct entry into the collection, representing an individual (or group of) plant material belonging to a single taxon with identical parentage, acquired from one source at the same time.

It is a standardised record that includes essential information such as the scientific name, provenance, source (donor or supplier), date of acquisition, and other associated data.

Upon acquisition by a garden, an accession is assigned a unique accession number. In Hortis, the standard format for accession numbers is YYYY-####, where "YYYY" represents the year of acquisition, and "####" denotes a numerical sequence. 

Accession numbers are typically assigned sequentially as new plants are added to the collection, ensuring each accession has a unique number for efficient tracking and reference purposes.

Plant Material

Plant material refers to the living or preserved parts of the accession, such as seeds or plants. Plant materials are directly linked to a specific accession, and are given individual qualifiers that can be alphabetic (/A, /B, /C) or numeric (/01, /02, /03).

The qualifiers help distinguish different parts or forms of the same accession, allowing for precise tracking and documentation.

A plant material record will include data on when it was planted, its status, quantity, location in the garden, and associated information. Plant materials can be tracked individually or as a group, depending on the desired level of detail for tracking and mapping.

For example, a single qualifier may be associated with a single individual plant, such as a large woody tree, with a quantity of 1. Alternatively, a qualifier can represent a group of individual plants, such as a cluster of herbaceous perennials, with a quantity of 5.

The plant material list is the one most commonly used on a day-to-day basis in botanic gardens, as it allows for practical monitoring and management of the living components of the collection.

Waheed is the author of this solution article.

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