living collections

Heather Schneider, Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens

There are times when drying and storing seeds is not an option for the conservation of a plant species. This might be because the seeds cannot survive the freezing process, or maybe because the species no longer produces seeds in the wild. Researchers at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden have been working with one such species, the Federally endangered Island Barberry, which no longer reproduces well naturally. While once found on several different channel islands, this species now occurs in a single location. 

Santa Barbara BG has established an ex-situ population of this rare species, allowing them to both conserve the genetic diveristy in a controlled environment, and use these plants to perform experiments without adversely effecting the small wild population. In 2019 these researchers began a propagation study using this ex-situ collection of island barberry to determine the best propagation methods for the species. Their experimental design had 4 variables. They planted cuttings in both the winter and the spring, they took cuttings from source material of different ages, they tested the use of a heating pad in propagation, and they tested different rooting hormone concentrations. Their results clearly defined the best practices for propagating the species. Cuttings should be made from old growth source material, and should be planted in the winter rather than the spring without the use of a heating pad. Rooting hormone is effective at both a 1:10 and 1:15 dilution. With this information, researchers have been very successful in propagating cuttings from the wild population for reintroductions.

This project is a great example of the value of living collections and horticultural expertise in rare plant conservation. An ex situ population was used to curate best practice recommendations for use by everyone involved in saving this species. From the boots on the ground on Santa Cruz Island to the dedicated staff and volunteers at SBBG, these efforts have ensured the Island Barberry a fighting chance at survival.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Alexandra Seglias (Denver Botanic Gardens)

Nicola Ripley (Betty Ford Alpine Gardens)

Brittany Roberts Marshall (Betty Ford Alpine Gardens)


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Alpine ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The Denver Botanic Gardens are seeking to protect rare species from these regions, banking seeds from multiple Alpine populations by maternal line. However, collecting seed from these remote areas comes with multiple challenges. Seed production is dependent on the previous year's winter weather, there is a short window for flowering and seed setting, the phenology changes rapidly, and many sites are difficult to reach.
After gathering seed, researchers at Denver Botanic Gardens perform germination trials and grow seedlings to be reintroduced. Plants are also added to the living collections at Denver Botanic Garden and the Betty Ford Alpine Botanic Gardens to further preserve these rare species.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, May 21, 2020

Talia Portner, Honolulu Botanical Gardens

Hawaii has approximately 1400 native plant species of which more than 90% are found nowhere else in the world. However, at least 30% of these species are endangered and 100 have already gone extinct due to land use change, ongoing pressure from introduced species, and the loss of pollinators and dispersers.To address these threats, Hawai'i has a well established conservation community with a history of partnerships between state, federal and private entities. The Honolulu Botanical Gardens (HBG) have great potential to provide living genebanks and access for botanical research for many of Hawai'i's rarest plants. The Gardens are comprised of five geographically separate grounds covering 650 acres across Oahu, including a historic urban arboretum, former picnic grounds of Hawaiian royalty, a mid-elevation garden, a large, wet habitat grounds with a reservoir, and even a volcanic crater. HBG's facilities not only provide an ideal habitat for living collections, but our dedicated staff serve as critical resource for protecting individual plants and providing information to our partners and the public. Although I am newly adopted into the botanical garden community as the HBG Horticulturist, I draw on the experience and challenges faced over 14 years of botanical field work with Hawaii's rarest plants with Oahu's Plant Extinction Prevention Program. I am now working with HBG staff and leadership to move the gardens towards an ecosystem conservation approach by which can build larger, ex-situ communities of Hawaiian species by working with my colleagues in the conservation community who specialize in collecting wild propagules as well as cutting edge seed storage and micropropagation technologies. Developing our role to manage living collections of Hawaiian plants will provide a critical resource for these conservation programs and help communicate the value of Hawaii's natural heritage to the public.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Friday, May 3, 2019

How many individuals are needed to create a conservation living collection?

Cylindropuntia californica var californica is a rare cactus that rarely produces viable seed. How many cuttings from individuals from a small population of approximately 30 would be needed to create a living conservation collection?

Question Category: 

Jordan Wood, Jeremie Fant, Andrea Kramer and Kay Havens, Chicago Botanic Garden

Genetics becomes important whenever populations become small (<100). This includes loss o fgenetic diversity from drift, increased expression of deleterious genes due to inbreeding, and limiting local adaptation. Since many species of plants are able to be seed banked, it is possible to maintain numbers well above these critical genetic thresholds. However for exceptional species, which can only be maintained as living plants, or for critically endangered species where remaining individuals are already below these numbers, the need to consider the remaining genetic diversity becomes critical. Importantly, the management focus shifts from saving a population to preserving each genetically unique individual. When you have such small numbers, it is critical to know how each individual contributes to the overall genetic diversity remaining. We are working with National Tropical Botanic Gardens (Hawaiʻi) to develop a multi-institution species management and breeding plan for Ālula(Brighamia insignis)that will ultimately support its restoration to the wild. To do this we are working with scientists at the Chicago Zoological Society to modify management software that incorporates genetics and demography information to maintain the long-term health of their captive populations of animals over the long term. Through this case study, we hope to develop collections management practices for plants that preserve important genetic diversity while identifying genetically appropriate individuals to using in crosses and that can ultimately be used to create resilient populations that can be used in reintroductions.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Friday, May 4, 2018