Under an agreement with the Center for Plant Conservation, the Rare Plant Conservation Program has been tasked to collect seeds of the endangered spreading pinweed, Lechea divaricata, from one population to safeguard its genetic material in two nationally recognized collection institutions. In June, the Rare Plant Conservation Program surveyed sites in central Florida with old, historical records for the species in order to locate a suitable population for seed collection.
A site in Highlands County no longer had any plants present, but a preserve in south Brevard County contained hundreds of healthy plants on well managed scrub habitat. With help from Conservation Biologist Suzanne Kennedy of FloraVista, Inc., Bok Tower Gardens’ Conservation Program staff located 57 reproductive plants in the population that were of sufficient size for safe seed collection.
Each plant was GIS mapped, marked with a tall pin flag, and a draw-string organza bag was tied around a portion of its reproductive stems. As the seeds ripen, the seed pods will dry, break open, and the ripe seeds be contained within the bags. Conservation Program staff will return to the site in several weeks to collect the bags of seeds, and begin the process of cleaning, counting, and drying the seeds for storage. If a sufficient number of seeds are collected, half of the seeds will be placed in cold-storage in the National Collection facilities at Bok Tower Gardens, and half will be sent to the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Colorado for long-term cryogenic storage.
This seed collection project is part of a larger, multi-year initiative by the Center for Plant Conservation to preserve the genetic diversity of the nation’s rarest plant species in ex situ collections, targeting first the species which are currently unrepresented in a collection. Currently there are no seeds of L. divaricata present in any collection, and this project hopes to change that to help conserve the species long into the future.
Article and photos by Cheryl Peterson, Conservation Program Manager at Bok Tower Gardens.