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History of Garden

In 1951 the Botanical Gardens of Petrozavodsk State University were founded amidst coniferous forests on the southern slopes of the surviving volcano on the northern bank of the Petrozavodsk bay of the Onega lake. Located near the northern borders of areas natural for many tree species, they are a sort of a link between St. Petersburg and Polar-Alpine Botanical Gardens.

At the foot of the devil’s chair

An open site, from which the city is well seen, is situated at the foothills of the highest mountain (Great Vaara) to the east of the Solomenny district of Petrozavodsk, in a vast area covered by forests. It is the Devil’s Chair (Chertov Stul) area, one of the classical objects for studies of the development: history of our planet. Active volcanic processes took place here 2 bln years ago. Slides and stone screens at the foot are traces of strong (up to 8-9 points) earthquakes that happened during the post-glacial period, which had started 12,000 years ago. One of the stone pieces, separated by a sudden dislocation and rupture of the earth’s crust, formed a chair-like niche, which suggested a name for the rock and the entire area.

As the glacier retreated, the climatic conditions changed, which was paralleled by alteration of the plants covering the Earth. During the first stages the plant cover was rather peculiar, combining the characteristic features of different natural zones: there were birches,  Artemisia , annual and perennial grasses, undershrubs or (rarely) shrubs and low trees, representatives of  Chenopodium  and  Lycopodium  families. At that time lake water surrounded the Great Vaara from all sides.

During the warmest post-glacial period (Atlantic), the flora of this area was largely formed by broad-leaved trees, such as linden, elm, maple, and even oak. However, further cooling and anthropogenic intrusion made some corrections. The flora of today is represented by a wide spectrum of phytocenoses (communities) of plants typical and rare for Karelia. Forests with predominating Norway spruce ( Picea abies (L.) H. Karst. ) and Scots pine ( Pinus sylvestris L. ) occupy 80 percent of the area. Among the rare trees are populations of black alder ( Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertn. ) and small-leaved lime ( Tilia cordata Mill. ), growing at the northern borderline of the area. In addition, 395 vascular plants, 124 cormophytes and 44 liverworts, 117 lichen species grow in the preserve. The flora includes 9 plant species registered in the Red Data Book of Karelia (2008) and 38 species recorded in the Red Data Book of Eastern Phennoscandia (1998).

In 1987 the Devil’s Chair was granted the status of a geological monument of nature of regional significance, keeping evidence of the processes and phenomena taking place in this territory since the Proterozoic era, which started 2.5 bln years ago. The preserve is functioning as a base for practical work of students of the Petrozavodsk University, Karelian State Pedagogical University, other higher schools of Russia and Europe. Tourists often visit this place and it is a favorite recreation area for residents of Petrozavodsk.


The gardens were founded in the difficult postwar years. They were mentioned for the first time in June 1944, soon after the return of the Petrozavodsk University from evacuation —from Syktyvkar. At that time departments of botanical profiles claimed that they needed a base for research and summer practical work of students. Since 1947 the project was discussed on a wide scale by the Academic Council of Biological Faculty with active participation of Avraamy Kokin, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), Head of the Department of Plant Physiology, Yevgeniya Ovchinnikova, Assistant Professor of the same department, and Sergei Sokolov, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), a well-known dendrologist and scientist from the Botanical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In February 1951, a plot of 14 hectares near the Solomennoye settlement on the bank of the Petrozavodsk bay of the Onega lake was allotted for this purpose. This area was a part of the floristic region situated on the other side of the lake and its relief was typical of Karelia: benches, more steep in the western part. The same year the Academic Council approved the structure of the Gardens, arboretum, departments of introduction (transplantation of some plant species to an alien area), selection, fruit and berries, decorative and medicinal herbs; the laboratory of seeds and consulting-rooms. The entire territory was divided into several zones: botanical expositions, a park, experimental and collection areas, nurseries for plants and animals and uterine plantations, protective plants, and economic infrastructure. Mikhail Ivanov, an outstanding scientist and organizer, became the first director of the Gardens.

In 1951-1963, the builders completed main objects: a house with study rooms for summer practical work of students, a laboratory building, greenhouse and hothouses, water-supply and road systems. Meanwhile, the specialists concentrated their efforts on collection of material for the main departments. Within a short period they created a big collection of trees valuable for the economy and decorative plants, fit for northern cities of our country and forestry. Further replenishment of dendrological collections was carried out by the methods of step-by-step introduction, climatic analogs, individual and group selection with consideration for the plant resistance to low temperature, seasonal growth, content of carbohydrates and enzymatic activities in plants. The area of the gardens gradually reached 80 hectares. Pavel Krupyshev, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), who replaced Ivanov as director of the Gardens (1963-1993), emphasized the importance of the studies of the fruit cultures and educational activities: more than 50 excursions were carried out annually for schoolchildren, teachers, tourists, and lovers of nature. The gardens were constantly replenished by new trees. The staff members in collaboration with scientists from the biological and agricultural faculties carried out research and formed a department of medicinal plants.

In 1994, the area of the Botanical Gardens was extended to 367 hectares. The greater part is occupied by the reserve territory. Its main task is to preserve the regional flora  in situ  and to organize practical studies in ecology. Complex studies of the region in collaboration with scientists from the Karelian Research Center of Russian Academy of Sciences were carried out in the mid-1990s, under guidance of Yevgeniya Markovskaya, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), head of the Department of Botany and Plant Physiology. It resulted in creation of the first geological, geomorphological, soil, and geobotanical maps and stock-taking of the flora, including higher vascular plants, mosses, and lichens. Evaluation of the modern state of natural complexes, history of their formation, monitoring of populations of rare and disappearing species, and development of measures to protect ecological systems —these problems remain in the focus of attention of the Department of Floristic and Phytocenological Research, headed by Yelena Platonova, Cand. Sc. (Biol.).

The unique landscape formed due to volcanoes, glaciers, and pine woods, allowed to create an attractive exposition —an arboretum*, based on a geographical principle. Three sections were initially planned on the territory of 5 hectares: European, Asian, and American flora.

“A garden in that town, herbs and flowers everywhere...”

Centers for getting young plants and seeds were selected on the initiative of the University lecturers Yevgeniya Ovchinnikova and Antonina Lantratova. They included nurseries for plants and animals, and botanical gardens of the Leningrad region, Moscow, and other Russian cities —Lipetsk, Penza, Kirovsk, Barnaul, Riga and Salaspils (Latvia). A scientific expedition was organized in 1953 for exploring the environs of Sortavala, situated at a distance of 287 km from Petrozavodsk, and the island of Valaam. Due to this expedition, the collection was appreciably supplemented. Nikolai Sokolov, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), who previously worked at Kirov Leningrad Forest Technology Academy, one of the oldest in the world, started multi-serial experiments on growing various forms of Karelian birch ( Betula pendula var. carelica  (Mercklin) L. Hämet-Ahti). Plants with characteristic signs of this species were planted in the arboretum and adjacent territories, part of the material was offered to forestries.

Biologists carried out phenological observations, studied the rhythm of growth and development of cultures, evaluated the cold resistance of the trees. The collections were formed and research activities were carried out in close cooperation with scientists from the Department of Botany and Plant Physiology of the University. Antonina Lantratova, Faina Kudryashova, Lyudmila Ganyushkina, Maria Mironova, and Maria Chekhonina guided the work on generic complexes of spruce, fir, larch, pine, oak, maple, mountain ash, birch, and some bushes. As a result of geographical seeding of Siberian larch and Norway spruce from 25 reproduction regions were selected elite seedlings according to phenotypical signs: color of coniferous needles and seed scales. Arthur Olykainen was the founder of physiological studies. His works on pigmentary composition of pine needles were published in the Russian periodicals — Higher School Reports, Bulletin of Tsitsin Chief Botanical Gardens of Russian Academy of Sciences , and in the foreign press.

During this period the biologists tested 420 taxons and distinguished (by their resistance level) elements of Eurasian and North-American origin after graded introduction. By the way, this method was used in studies of seasonal development of some trees, carried out in 1984 in close cooperation with the Polar Alpine and Kaliningrad Botanical gardens.

Since then a lot of changes have taken place. The trees and bushes planted by the founders of the gardens have grown. There are about 300 species thereof in the arboretum, now headed by Marina Potapova; these species represent the flora of Asia, Europe, and North America. Large groups, presenting the natural plant communities, can be created on the territory.

Today the perspectives of the arboretum development are connected with growing the forms and cultivated variants of the species, which have been introduced and grow under conditions of Karelia. Since 2002 Alexei Falin has been creating a collection of the  Salix  L. genus, including various cultivated groups of willows, received from the Botanical Gardens of the Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences (Yekaterinburg). Today this collection includes about 50 taxons for Karelian cities; it is the largest collection in north-western Russia.

The new exposition is a decorative arboretum from various kinds of American arbor-vitae, junipers, spruces, Norway maple, spiraea, and barberries. Its main donors —the Botanical Gardens of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Sochi, Tver, and nurseries for plants and animals of Bruns-Pflantzen (Germany). By the way, transfer of plants through several climatic zones to the north was rather easy. When an essential number of “alien” trees and bushes give germinable seeds, we cannot but think of the role of global warming. In recent years we manged to get for the first time seedlings of red oak, prevalent to the east of the USA, and of chestnut, growing in South-Eastern Europe, India, East Asia, and North America.

Now we can say that the results of studies of arboreal plants are now known outside the territory of our Botanical Gardens. Arina Yeglacheva in her candidate’s thesis presented the dendroflora of Karelia (402 species), described rich reserves of numerous species, which can be used for more extensive planting with trees of urbanized areas of the territory.

Vitamins for NorthernErs

The first training fruit garden was planted at the beginning of the 1950s on a beautiful southern slope of the middle bench by the lake. This was largely due to the efforts of Militsa Izergina, Cand. Sc. (Biol.). The pride of the garden are cold-resistant apple trees, grown due to the thorough care and fruitful research work. The small-fruited species, including procumbent forms, created at the Biisk Experimental Selection Station (Altai territory), proved to be the most productive. The local reproduction areas also contributed to creation of a rich collection of fruits and berries. In 1945 a fruit and berry nursery was created in Sortavala on the initiative of Avraamy Kokin. A lot of seedlings were brought from the Sulazhgorsk fruit and berry in Petrozavodsk, from Valaam, from Lumpiev Fruit Gardens (town of Olonets, Karelia).

Pavel Kurkhinen, our staff member, carried out tests of varieties and selected the most productive cold-resistant ones for Karelia. Special attention was paid to analysis of the trace element composition of fruit cultures (Pavel Krupyshev). This aspect is particularly important, as it is involved in an important problem: to develop trace-element balanced rations under conditions of Karelia. In the 1990s, Vladimir Kovyaka founded a research and production Nursery for plants and animals on the basis of this collection. Today the nursery has more than 200 varieties fit for cultivating in the Republic: traditional raspberry, garden strawberry, currant, gooseberry, sea buckthorn, apple tree, and new varieties of edible honeysuckle, Nanking cherry, wild myrobalan, and tara vine. The nursery provides high-quality fruit and decorative plants for the Botanical Gardens and for the population of Karelia; due to the container technologies, this material can be used throughout the entire vegetation period. Plants collected during expeditions and seedlings from other organizations are collected here. However, the main task of the Fruit Department, headed today by Tatyana Kirilkina, Cand. Sc. (Agricult.), is preservation of the genetic potential, exposure, selection, and replenishment of the collection by highly productive cold-resistant cultures.

For beauty and health

At first the collection of flowers and decorative plants in our garden was not big: 36 species and varieties (mainly gladioluses, tulips, and narcissuses). Biologists carried out their selection according to resistance to low temperatures, pests, and disease agents. The decorative forms, differing by color, were analyzed particularly thoroughly. As a result, a list of flower varieties, fit for planting, was created. Offered in 1976-1980 to the city, these flowers made the streets and parks of Petrozavodsk more beautiful.

The department of medicinal plants, created on the initiative of Professor Alexei Shtanko, head of the Department of Botany and Plant Physiology in the 1980s, was formed on the basis of aboriginal and introduced species, grown in small areas with consideration for their use in pharmacology. In 2004, the exposition was extended “for vital indications”: students of the new Department of Pharmacognosia of Medical Faculty of the Petrozavodsk University needed practical work. Today it is a part of the department of perennial herbs of the garden.

Let us mention some original works of Tamara Smirnova, Cand. Sc. (Biol.). The Shadow Garden emerged in 1996 in the shadow of pines near a small old pond. It was based on a collection of Rimma Karpisonova, Cand. Sc. (Biol.). from Tsitsin Chief Botanical Gardens in Moscow. A Sunny Garden is now forming nearby, which already counts more than 400 taxons.


Two main sources of our collections are expeditions and exchange, activation of which is promoted by an annual list (delectus) of our taxons, issued since the 1960s. Our laboratory of seeds strives to obtain high-quality material of local reproduction. The experience shows that this material gives the most resistant and viable seedlings for further growth in the gardens. Every year up to 50-60 species are sowed in nurseries for plants and animals.

When collecting the seeds, we pay special attention to local plants, most interesting to our colleagues. Lately we have had contacts with 150 organizations of relevant profile, with which we exchange materials. Every year more than 500 specimens from 25-50 gardens of Russia and foreign countries are received by the Seed Bank, headed by Tatyana Timokhina. Our list usually includes 150-200 plant species (mainly local flora) collected in the reserve territory of the Botanical Gardens.

The High LEAGUE “game”

Botanical gardens belong to one of the oldest and integrated scientific communities of the world. Their activities are now coordinated by the International Botanical Gardens Council for Plant Protection and Consortium of Botanical Gardens of Europe; the similar organ is functioning in our country. After the crisis of early 1990s, our team, headed by Alexei Prokhorov, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), since 1993, revised the strategy of our development in accordance with the principles of the above-mentioned competent organizations. Today three priority trends determine our activities: formation of a new image of the gardens, attractive for visitors; studies and preservation of the diversity of aboriginal flora; development and introduction of new information technologies.

Since 1997 our work has been supported by grants of the RF Ministry of Education and Science, Russian Humanitarian Research Foundation, Russian Foundation for Basic Research, International Council of Botanical Gardens for Plant Protection, McArthur Charity Foundation (USA), the  Open Society  Institute, and the “Universities of Russia” program.

The Congress of Association of Eurasian Botanical Gardens, held in 1994 in the Subtropical Botanical Gardens of Kuban (Sochi), provided a key for search of new trends of our activities. At that congress the specialists paid attention to the problem (important for us too) of registration and stock-taking of collections, the absence of appropriate software. After successful introduction of software (due to Karelian specialists Mikhail Nesterenko and Vasily Andryusenko), the Botanical Gardens of Petrozavodsk University has become the development center of information systems, intended for studies and preservation of natural resources, and uniting many colleagues from Russia and other countries of the world.

For about 14 years we have been developing the organizational, research and methodological support for formation and analysis of the national collection of genetic resources of vascular plants  ex situ . Let us point out here that today more than 25,000 species and more than 29,000 varieties of these plants are cultivated only in the Botanical Gardens and Dendrological Parks of Russia. The striving to make this information available resulted in creation of a search system “Botanical Collections of Russia and Neighboring States”. Due to this system, it is possible to obtain data on the localization of each taxon and its presence through the Internet. At present it includes data on 100 collections (77 Russian and 23 foreign ones). One more resource has appeared recently: information and analytical system “Botanical Collections of Russia”. Today every garden can carry out a comparative analysis of its collections, evaluate their species diversity and unique features, and on the basis of received knowledge, “correct” its own strategy. Due to modern technologies, it is possible to compare the collections exposed to similar climatic conditions and draw up lists of candidates for introduction.

The local system for registration of collections (“Kalipso”), adapted to work in the network of botanical institutions of Russia, won the recognition of specialists. Supporting the international standards, it ensures registration of genetic resources and creation of automated banks of passport and estimation data of respective foundations. Hence, the Russian gardens are now offered a real opportunity of full-value integration of their studies within the framework of information space. It is not accidental that a workshop on computer technologies of the International Council of Botanical Gardens for Plant Protection was held in March 1997 in Petrozavodsk, and in the summer of the same year —a meeting on the “Problems of Planting with Trees and Gardens of Northern Cities”; in 2001 —a conference “Strategy of Botanical Gardens of Russia at the Beginning of the Third Millennium”, timed for the 50th anniversary of our gardens; in September 2008 —the 12th Congress of Delegates of the Russian Botanical Society (established in 1916 in Petrograd) (it is held every 5 years). The carrying out of such important events for the development of botanical science in Petrozavodsk (we were the receiving party) is an acknowledgment of our work.

Prokhorov A.A., Platonova E.A. and Lantratova A.S. "Garden on the rocks.", Science in Russia, 3 (2009): 92-101.


Alexey Prokhorov site Botanic Garden of Petrozavodsk State University Calypso software Information-Analitical System Concil of botanical gardens of Russia Hortus botanicus - Journal Searching system