This summer, the North Carolina Botanical Garden made the first ever collection of the globally imperiled Gaylussacia orocola (Blue Ridge huckleberry). The species is of high conservation concern due to habitat rarity and only 30% of known sites remaining extant. Further, G. orocola is not known to occur in any ex situ collections increasing the priority to take conservation actions. To make this collection, we visited 2 of the 3 known extant sites. One population was very small and did not flower this year. The other population occurs in a mountain bog, which has benefited from recent management actions, including a prescribed fire. Working with botanists with the NC Plant Conservation Program in the summer of 2019 we identified many flowering individuals.
Birds and animals frequently eat the ripening fruits of huckleberries. So in June, NCBG intern Morgan Holder and NCBG Conservation Ecologist Mike Kunz visited the site to bag developing fruits to discourage frugivory and help ensure successful collection. We bagged branches with green fruits from 57 individuals throughout the bog. In July, we returned to remove the bags and collect the mature fruits. We took the fruits to NCBG to extract the seeds.
In total, we successfully collected 2136 seeds from 45 maternal lines. One-half of the collection will be stored at the National Laboratory of Genetic Resource Preservation and the other half will remain in the NCBG seedbank. NCBG will test a portion of the seeds for viability before storage.
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