New Mo. Botanical Garden head cites "crucial" time -

New Mo. Botanical Garden head cites "crucial" time

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Missouri Botanical Garden's newly named president Tuesday pledged his leadership and to rally financial support for the St. Louis institution and its worldwide work identifying, researching and protecting plant species, many of which face extinction.

Peter Wyse Jackson made his first public appearance after being named last month as successor to longtime president Peter Raven.

Wyse Jackson is director of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland in Dublin. Before that, he led a network of the world's botanical gardens in developing their role in plant conservation. He also led U.N.-sponsored efforts to protect and preserve plant diversity. He said his career has prepared him "for this great institution."

Wyse Jackson, 54, will take over in St. Louis on Sept. 1, and will work with Raven during a transition that will keep the senior botanist as president emeritus through July 2011 and involved with special projects beyond that.

Scot Medbury, who heads the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, praised the search committee's vision in filling what he called "one of the most important conservation posts in the world."

Wyse Jackson said it is a crucial time for the environment, with a quarter of the world's 400,000 known plant species -- medicinal and otherwise -- in danger of extinction. He said he would rally financial support for the garden and offer leadership for its mission of identifying plants and protecting their habitat, even as plants are threatened by the spread of new diseases, pathogens and invasive species brought about by climate change.

He said he is happy being in his native Ireland, but because of Missouri Botanical Garden's stature, "nobody with any sense of responsibility for the plant world would turn this (job) down."

Raven will have led the institution for 40 years when he steps down next year at age 75, having transformed a small garden in the 1970s into a world-class center for botanical research, education and horticultural display, with scientists on six continents, or 38 countries, around the world.

The garden, which celebrated its 150th year in 2009, is widely considered one of the world's top three botanical gardens and plant science programs, along with New York Botanical Garden and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, outside London.

"My message is that the garden isn't broken, so we won't fix it," Wyse Jackson said. "But we will build on its achievements and strengths. We won't drop any programs. We will enhance them. I've been really impressed by what I've seen."

Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden on the National Mall in Washington, said "very few people could ever fill the shoes of Peter Raven but when I heard of his appointment, I thought, 'now there is a brilliant choice for that job."'

Wyse Jackson's work helping U.S. and international gardens take leading roles in plant conservation makes him ideally suited, she said. "I really believe he's the man for the job," she said. "He's a great choice."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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