Keeping Up With Conservation: Creating an “Ark” for Rare Plants

The Rare Plant Conservation Program curates a collection of Florida’s rare plant species for the purpose of preserving the species as they are being lost to development and declining habitat in the wild. Maintained at Bok Tower Gardens as part of the Center for Plant Conservation (, this National Collection represents the genetic diversity remaining in each species, and is composed of both living specimens and stored seeds. Each year, Conservation Program staff travels to various locations throughout north and central Florida to collect material from populations which are not yet represented, or are under-represented, in the Collection.

The conservation strategy of maintaining rare plant collections, such as the National Collection at Bok Tower Gardens, are increasingly being recognized worldwide as making a critical difference in species survival. There are roughly 2,000 garden institutions in 148 countries, which curate around 4 million accessions, representing 80,000 taxa. It is thought that the genetic diversity held within these ex situ collections far outnumber the diversity remaining within wild populations, and this will likely only increase as developmental and other pressures lead to the further decline of wild populations.

The goal of the National Collection at Bok Tower Gardens is not only to store rare plants and seeds long-term, as a buffer against extinction, but also to provide a mixture of genetic material for projects which introduce new populations onto protected lands. The National Collections therefore help serve as a “Noah’s Ark” for the survival of Florida’s rarest plant species.

In February, Conservation staff collected seeds and cuttings of the endangered Etonia rosemary, Conradina etonia, from two forest sites. This critically imperiled mint species grows only in Putnam County at six sites, and nowhere else in the world.

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