Daniel Harder, director of the UCSC Arboretum, traveled to Vietnam in September at the invitation of the Vietnamese government to take part in an international conference to discuss the development and planning of a museum of natural history in Ho Chi Minh City.

The planned facility will be Vietnam's first natural history museum. Its objectives are to collect and preserve natural specimens from throughout the country and to organize exhibits that promote a better understanding of the nature and environment of Ho Chi Minh City and the country of Vietnam. The San Francisco-Ho Chi Minh Sister City Committee is among the cooperating organizations involved in the project.

At the conference, Harder presented ideas for the development and design of the museum's botanical garden, herbarium collections, and educational exhibits and outreach associated with the botanical side of the museum. Other participants included experts from the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and the Cologne Zoo in Germany.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for me to connect to Vietnam's first effort to develop a natural history museum and take part in the historical process of planning this new museum," Harder said. "Public education about Vietnam's rich biodiversity and its endangerment is a key first step to developing a stronger conservation ethic within Vietnam and raising global awareness of the threats to this rich floristic region."

Before coming to UCSC, Harder spent several years in Vietnam as founding director of a botanical conservation program for the Missouri Botanical Garden. Working with Vietnamese botanist Nguyen Tien Hiep and other collaborators, his team has added about 10 percent to the total number of species known from Vietnam. Included in their findings were new species of orchids, begonias, and conifers, including the rare golden Vietnamese cypress (see earlier story).

During the recent conference, Harder and other attendees enjoyed field trips to the mangrove swamps at Con Gio in the Mekong Delta and to the diverse myrtle forests of Nam Cat Tien National Park.