Front Range Seed Analysts
1993 Seed Forum Volume 7 Number 1
Seeds of Endangered Plants: A Partnership Between the Center
Conservation and the National Seed Storage Laboratory
by Annette Logan
Rare and Endangered Plants are getting some insurance against extinction with a partnership between the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) and the USDA/ARS National Seed Storage Laboratory. Headquartered at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Massachussetts, the CPC is a coalition of the nation's arboreta and botanic gardens. CPC hopes to build an archive of rare plants by cultivating them and preserving the seeds.
Rare plant protection is a two-part process. The f irst and most important is in-situ protection; that is, protection of the existing populations in their natural habitats. In-situ protection is often more complicated than merely fencing off an area. Researchers must study the ecology of the plant. Reproduction may requre exposure to fire, periodic flooding, or a dependance on particular animals for pollination or seed scarification. Some plants may have a dependance on microorganisms present in the soil. In-situ plant preservation involves protecting the overall health of the ecosystem.
The second part of plant protection is ex-situ preservation; or cultivation of the plants away from their natural habitats. The purpose of ex-situ preservation is to provide insurance against extinction and to give researchers and the public a way to study the plants without disturbing a sensitive habitat.
Each CPC participating institution researches and cultivates the rare plants of its region. With more than 3000 acknowledged rare plants in the U.S., the task is enormous. The CPC institution for the Front Range area is the Denver Botanic Gardens. There, Carol Dawson works with groups like the Colorado Native Plant Society, The Nature Conservancy and several public agencies to map rare plant populations, and begin the process of cultivation. She directs seed collection from the wild populations, cleans them, and sends a sample to the National Seed Storage Laboratory for long term storage. The Denver Botanic Gardens then propagates the plants for further seed increase and study.
At the National Seed Storage Laboratory, seed information is entered on the USDA's GRIN database (Germplasm Resources Information Network). The seeds are described and imaged with new computer imaging equipment, and then they are germinated to evaluate Beed quality prior to seed Btorage. Paired tests are run to see if the seeds can withstand exposure to liquid nitrogen. If liquid nitrogen exposure is not detrimental, then the seeds will be placed in plastic tubes and stored in the liquid nitrogen tanks. If not, then the seeds will be packaged in heat-sealed foil laminated bags and Btored at minus 18 degrees celcius.
Many people ask why we should care about the survival of rare plants. Allowing extinction is like burning a book before it has been read. The value of these plants to humans is unknown. The plants may have medicinal, horticultural, agricultural, or industrial uses. Studies of rare plants can tell UB much about the web of life in the ecosystems where they are found. These plants are part of our natural heritage. Indifference to extinction is a folly our descendants are least likely to forgive.
The Colorado Native Plant Society, in cooperation with the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, has published a book called Rare Plants of Colorado, 1989. The book illustrates and describes rare plants found in eight different types of habitats in Colorado.
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