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Giving: Fall 2011
Author: Su Yim
Posted: September 30, 2011

Transplanting a dream

MORE THAN 70 years ago, Rae Selling Berry’s personal passion for the exceptional sparked a legacy that Portland State is proud to carry on today.

An unabashed plant lover, Berry transformed the grounds of her southwest Portland home into an internationally renowned private collection of rare plants. Her garden ultimately became the Berry Botanic Garden, featuring education and research programs as well as one of the first seed banks of its kind in the country.

This year, the Rae Selling Berry Seed Bank and Plant Conservation Program moves to PSU, which will further expand the collection and operations. The garden itself closed in 2010, a casualty of the stubborn recession. After considering many options for its future, the garden’s board chose PSU to continue what has become its most crucial work: conservation.

“Reestablishing the seed bank at Portland State will allow Mrs. Berry’s legacy to take the world stage at an institution with an international reputation for its research and practice in sustainability,” says Dawn Kropp, Berry Botanic Garden board chair. “With the growing threat of climate change to native plants in the Pacific Northwest and around the world, I can’t imagine a more important opportunity.”

Seed banks act as time capsules to preserve and protect species. The Berry seed bank was one of the first in the country specifically dedicated to preserving threatened and endangered species in the Pacific Northwest, says conservation director Ed Guerrant.

That work will continue at PSU, thanks to $1.8 million in donations, which creates a seed bank and laboratory on campus, endows the director position, and funds the Gilbert and Laurie Meigs Conservation Education Endowment Scholarship.

PARTNERING with the Berry Botanic Garden is a natural fit for PSU, where sustainability is the backbone of many programs. Faculty and researchers work on plant genetics, plant ecology, and invasive species. In addition, PSU students have worked at the garden as interns, volunteers, and temporary staff while graduate students have worked at the conservation program.

Those opportunities to train the next generation of botanists and conservationists will continue. “We want to get as many people involved as are interested,” says Guerrant, who will fill the director position at PSU. Alumni and other community members are also welcome to volunteer.

The seed bank, which started in 1987, has a collection of more than three million seeds representing the diversity of 350 species. Its new space in the Science Research and Teaching Center (formerly known as Science Building 2) quadruples its current capacity.

Although the garden is no longer open to the public, the passion that fueled it for decades remains in the community. As it was transitioning the program to PSU, the Berry board raised $100,000 from nearly 200 donors to help fund the move.


A special reception for the opening of the Science Research and Teaching Center, including the seed bank and conservation program, will take place October 21 during PSU Weekend. For more information, see


Photo: The Western Lily (Lilium occidentale) is one of the endangered plant species in the Rae Selling Berry Seed Bank which has moved to Portland State. Painting by Catherine Watters.