Chad Washburn, Naples Botanical Garden
Naples Botanical Garden opened its doors to the public in 2009, including regionally themed gardens, on-site natural areas, and educational programs. Initial conservation endeavors focused on restoring a portion of the garden from invasive exotic Melaleuca quinquenervia to a diverse coastal marsh. Efforts to conserve the region’s plants expanded in 2017 following the impact of Hurricane Irma on living collections and the regional landscape. The Garden takes an integrated approach to plant conservation, including in-situ and ex-situ efforts, restoration and resiliency projects, and building capacity for conservation in south Florida and across the Caribbean region.
The Garden’s 90 acres of natural lands is comprised of multiple habitats including imperiled coastal scrub. To ensure responsible stewardship, the garden manages for species diversity and is in the process of re-introducing fire as a management tool. An assessment of the flora on-site found that 41 species are absent from reported ex-situ collections in Botanic Gardens Conservation International’s PlantSearch. This led to the development of a targeted seed collection strategy and improved efforts to manage natural resources. To ensure long-term survival we initiated a seedbank and have expanded to include collections of known wild provenance from across south Florida and the Caribbean region. The seedbank serves multiple roles including a part in the development of storage protocols, long-term conservation of genetic material, and a source for ongoing restoration efforts in the region. This spring we partnered with the City of Naples to restore beach dune plant communities and promote the use of regionally appropriate plant material in the urban forest. The Garden’s conservation efforts continue to develop as we partner with BGCI to lead the Caribbean Botanic Garden Network to build capacity for conservation across the Biodiversity Hotspot and the Virgin Islands Rare Plant Initiative to target species in the USVI.