CPC Best Plant Conservation Practices

to Support Species Survival in the Wild

Pitcher plants in cultivation at Atlanta Botanic Garden. Photo by Joyce Maschinski.

Key Messages about Planning Care of a Conservation Collection
  • The long-term commitment required to maintain a conservation collection in support of a rare plant species’ survival in the wild can benefit from a carefully considered plan with short-term and long-term goals.
  • Unlike species available commercially, rare species may have unknown propagation requirements. Understanding the rare species’ ecology and conditions it undergoes in nature will help identify propagation and cultivation needs.
  • Sharing one’s experience with a rare species can help successors and other practitioners seeking to conserve rare species.

Review the accession information about habitat-specific conditions present at the species’ collection location.

  • Check online resources and herbarium records to explore the species’ habitat, germination, and cultivation requirements. (See Propagation Resources in References.)
  • If you have had experience growing an associated species from the plant community reported on the accession form, this may give you clues to growing requirements of the target rare species.
  • It may be possible to extrapolate horticultural needs from general information about the wild source location, soil type, rainfall amount and seasonality.

Determine the conservation objective for the species.

  • Clarify the short-term and long-term goals for the species.
  • Understand the actions and record keeping needed for germination, propagation and cultivation.
  • Identify other institutions that hold the plant in collection, the age of the plants across the meta-collection of all institutions, and the opportunities for pollen sharing or exchanging plants to enhance genetic diversity.

Maintain labels and records that track maternal lines

All in the family - the case for collecting by maternal lines

Conservation seed collections support species’ survival by acting as an insurance policy in the face of extinction. They can also provide resources for research, restoration... Read More

To avoid disease transmission, maintain clean work surfaces and pest free growing conditions.

  • Maintain sanitary conditions to prevent disease (Dumroese et al. 2009).
    • Disinfect surfaces, tools, and containers with 10% bleach solution regularly.
  • Employ integrated pest management in facilities and on grounds.
    • Check for and treat pests (Olkowski et al. 1991; Flint 2012).
    • Whenever possible, exclude pests using screens or barriers.
    • Choose a pesticide the targets specific pest and is safe to use. Avoid collateral damage from pesticide use. [See Table 15.2 Landis et al. 2009 for pest prevention, signs and symptoms and suggestions for control.
    • Note: to avoid risking an entire accession, it is best to try the pesticide on one of your plants before treating all of them.
  • Encourage beneficial organisms (Olkowski et al. 1991; Flint 2012).

Be observant.

  • Record observations systematically and on a routine schedule.
  • Note changes in plant health across changing seasonal conditions.

Solicit Advice

Have a plan for exchanging plant care needs across staff and departments.

  • This is especially important when irrigation or other vital services will be disrupted due to construction or when key personnel are offsite.

Adjust irrigation and integrated pest management (IPM) across seasons as needed.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t be afraid to try something new.

  • Established protocols may not always prove to be successful with a species that is unknown to horticulture (Wilkinson 2009).
  • Experimentation can always yield answers that help carve a path forward and, of course, when you share your results, others can learn techniques that can help save more plants.

Share Successes (and Failures)

  • Just as soliciting advice from botanical experts may save time and conserve precious rare plant matter, sharing the results of rare plant horticulture efforts will do the same for future projects. Remember, this knowledge is precious. Few people on Earth have horticultural experience with any given wild rare plant species. Share results informally through the professional channels mentioned under Solicit Advice. See this example of an informally shared propagation success for Fremontodendron mexicanum. Propagation protocols can be shared more formally with the native plant community through the Native Plant Network Propagation Protocol Database operated by the US Forest Service.

Ex Situ Conservation Guidelines: Linking Ex-Situ Collections to In-Situ Conservation Actions

Johnny reviews the Center for Plant Conservation best practices related to the link between ex situ and in situ actions. Ex situ collections held as seeds... Read More
Questions to Ask When Planning the Care of a Conservation Collection When Planning the Care of a Conservation Collection
  1. What are the short-term and long-term conservation goals for the species?
  2. Will the species be maintained in a seed bank? Is there an exit plan? [See CPC Best Practice Section, “Cleaning, Processing, Drying and Storing Orthodox Seeds.”]
  3. Will the species be held in nursery facilities? For what length of time? [See CPC Best Practice Section, “Maintaining a Conservation  Collection.”]
  4. Will the species be maintained as part of the living display collection in the botanical garden? For what length of time? [See CPC Best Practice Section, “Maintaining a Conservation  Collection.”]
  5. What other institutions hold the plant in collection?
  6. What opportunities for sharing/ exchanging plants or pollen exist?