Conservation in Progress

The Rare Plant Conservation Program at Bok Tower Gardens is committed to rare plant preservation. Conservation in Progress is a biannual summary posted on the Bok Tower Gardens website as a rare plant informational tool for website visitors.

January – June 2017 Highlights:

International awardFlorida’s conservation communityShowy Dawnflower rescueClasping Warea & Sandhill restoration2017 Duke Signature EventGenetic analysis of Vicia genus

Bok Tower Gardens’ Rare Plant Conservation Program wins international award

Ziziphus celata fruitThe Rare Plant Conservation Program at Bok Tower Gardens maintains a National Collection of endangered plants and seeds from central and northern Florida. Our seeds are either kept on site at Bok Tower Gardens or in long-term cryogenic storage at the National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation in Fort Collins, CO, with the goals of protecting these plants from extinction by preserving them directly through storage, serving as a resource to support research, and for providing plant material for population introduction and augmentation efforts. In spring 2017, the Rare Plant Conservation Program won the Global Seed Conservation Challenge Award, given by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a global network of over 500 botanic gardens working to preserve rare and endangered plant species. This award was for having the greatest proportion of endangered or threatened species in our seed bank. Indeed, 58 of the 60 species in our seed collection, which consists of over 3.3 million seeds and includes species from 28 plant families, fall into a protected category. Of the species in our collection, 28 are on the Federal Endangered Species List and 23 are on the Florida Endangered Species List. Another seven are listed as threatened at the state and/or federal level. Our work continues; we are about to add over 10,000 seeds of Ziziphus celata, one of Florida’s rarest plants, to our collection. Photo is of fruits ripening on a Z. celata plant in May.

Networking to strengthen the conservation community in Florida

2017 Rare Plant Task ForceConservation can only be successfully achieved with a strong, diverse network of partners working together to achieve common goals. One way in which we work to build and strengthen the rare plant conservation network in Florida is through the statewide, annual Rare Plant Task Force meeting, which brings together biologists, land managers, scientists, educators and other professionals to discuss to share findings, discuss priorities and forge new partnerships.

The 2017 Task Force was successfully held on April 6th -7th at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Each year the Task Force is jointly coordinated by Bok Tower Gardens and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, and this year folks from Marie Selby also helped coordinate the meeting. The Florida Bromeliad Conservation Working Group meeting was held on April 5th at the same venue, and registration was jointly announced to allow folks from each group a better opportunity to participate in each meeting. The overarching topic for the 2017 Task Force was “Non-traditional Partnerships for Rare Plant Conservation.” The first day of the meeting consisted of presentations on diverse subjects, followed by the inaugural meeting of the Florida Plant Conservation Alliance. A social to encourage discussion and networking took place immediately afterward on the balcony of the Great Room overlooking the bay. Half-day, optional field trips made up the second day of the meeting, and included a visit to the dry prairie at Myakka State Park, a guided hike at Little Manatee River State Park, an Epiphyte horticulture workshop with Selby Gardens horticulture team, and a botanical survey of the Ellie Eide Foundation Property in Sarasota. Feedback suggested that the 2017 meeting was one of the most enjoyable and informative, with participants glad they attended and with new collaborations formed.

Rescue of the Showy Dawnflower from a Parkway expansion impact area

Showy Dawnflower rescueAs a member in the national Center for Plant Conservation, Bok Tower Gardens is the officially recognized repository for the preservation of the genetic material of central and north Florida’s rare plant species within an ex situ curated collection. This “National Collection” preserves seeds and living specimens from all known populations to safeguard Florida’s natural heritage for the nation, provide a buffer against extinction and to provide rare plant material for introductions and research. Part of this responsibility involves rescuing rare plants from areas impacted by development or other activities.

Recently, we partnered with the Florida Forest Service, Atkins, Florida Turnpike Authority and Paff Tree Service to rescue three rare species from areas that will be converted into an expansion of the Suncoast Parkway in Citrus County. This included the rescue in January 2017 of 500 Showy Dawnflower, Stylisma abdita. Thirty-one volunteers from Citrus, Pasco and Hernando County joined volunteers and staff from the partnering organizations and carefully dug up each small plant, many of which had long, delicate root systems (see photo). Four hundred of the plants were relocated into an adjacent area in the Withlacoochee State Forest, set up to irrigation lines, and watered 2-3x per week. The remainder of the rescued plants were brought back to Bok Tower Gardens to become accessioned into the National Collection for safeguarding.

In early May, the volunteers returned to the Withlacoochee State Forest to collect survival data. Over 70% of the transplanted plants showed good signs of growth, and eight were even flowering. This is the first time we have attempted a rescue and translocation of a Stylisma species, and we now know that the methods and timing we used could help rescue this and similar species in the future if the need arises. The high success rate is a good measure of both the great partnerships in this project, and the expert volunteer work we were lucky enough to enjoy.

Photo: Volunteer Greg Thompson holding a Showy Dawnflower with a long root system during the January rescue.

Partnering for Sandhill restoration and preservation of Clasping Warea within a state park

Lake Louisa State ParkIn 2016, for the first time, the Trees For You and Me (TFYM) grant program, in partnership with the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) National and Polar Bears International, extended their mission to combat the impacts of climate change to entities outside the zoo community. Bok Tower Gardens was one of two organizations awarded a grant, which funded a project to restore Sandhill habitat at Lake Louisa State Park and introduce both native trees and the endangered Clasping Warea, Warea amplexifolia. After it was acquired and designated as a state park, the park’s managers have sought to restore its natural plant communities. The TFYM grant allowed for BTG to partner to restore some of its critical Sandhill through the removal of invasive species and the reduction of fuel, followed by prescribed fire, a natural and important occurrence of Sandhill ecosystems. Hundreds of Longleaf pine, a long-term atmospheric carbon sequestering species, were planted to build a healthy canopy, as well as Turkey oak, a deciduous widely dispersed Sandhill mid-story species, and seeds of native Sandhill grasses and herbaceous species were sown to begin populating the forest floor.

Approximately 800 Clasping Warea, one of central Florida’s rarest Sandhill plant species, were
introduced within two adjacent locations in June. These annual plants are expected to flower in September, providing nectar for native pollinators. Annual monitoring of reproductive output and seedling recruitment each successive year will help ensure the new populations are healthy and self-sustaining.

The 2017 Duke Signature Event

2017 Duke Energy Signature EventOn May 18th, Duke Energy, in partnership with Bok Tower Gardens, The Nature Conservancy and Mountain Lake Estates, hosted their regional signature employee event at Bok Tower Gardens. The 2017 Signature Event focused on the collaborative Sandhill restoration project at Mountain Lake Estates funded by a generous Duke Energy grant with supportive funding from the State of Florida. This partnership was formed in 2016 to restore an area of degraded Sandhill habitat adjacent to a Duke Energy power line easement. The Signature Event involved 45 Duke Energy employees spent the morning planting hundreds of the state and federally endangered Clasping Warea, Warea amplexifolia, and a variety of native flowering Sandhill species that had been propagated in the greenhouse at the Gardens into a prepared restoration area which had undergone fuel reduction, removal of exotic species, longleaf pine and wiregrass planting and a prescribed burn. The event also featured two speakers that have been essential to the progress of this project, Bok Tower Gardens’ Rare Plant Conservation Program Manager, Cheryl Peterson, and Adam Peterson from The Nature Conservancy. Cheryl educated Duke Employees about the restoration sites’ history and the project details, and Adam Peterson spoke about the role of fire and its importance as a management tool for the conservation of Sandhill ecosystems. This planting by Duke Energy was a monumental event in the restoration process, since these plants will flower on site, providing nectar for native pollinators, and will then seed, re-creating the seed bank that once existed. The newly planted Clasping Warea will help to re-establish the natural population which once had occurred at the site, but which had disappeared for many years due to overgrowth and lack of fire.

Duke Energy has not only funded this project but they have also volunteered many hours during the restoration process. Duke Energy employees were on site participating in the very early stages of this project by setting up vegetation assessment quadrats and assisting with the initial data collection at the start of the restoration project.

Expedition across Central Florida for genetic analysis of Vicia genus

Ocala Vetch analysisOcala Vetch, Vicia ocalensis, is an herbaceous, perennial vine which grows in sandy peat along the shoreline of natural springs systems in the Ocala National Forest. There are only three historically known populations of this species, and only two remain, the third having disappeared in 2003. We have been engaged in studies into the microhabitat requirements of this species, into factors influencing its germination and survival, and looking at the genetic diversity remaining within the species and between the populations.

In 2016, we began a collaborative project with Dr. Carrie Kiel of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden to use molecular methods to see the relatedness of V. ocalensis to other Florida Vicia species. This is important also for the conservation of the rare Ocala Vetch to inform future introduction sites and determine whether there may historically have been gene flow between the different species.

Early results have suggested that the rare Ocala Vetch is very genetically similar to the Four-leaf Vetch, V. acutifolia. The Four-leaf Vetch is found in similar wet habitat as the Ocala Vetch, but has been vouchered from all throughout peninsular Florida.

Vicia floridanaMay 2017, the Rare Plant Conservation Program travelled to potential occurrence sites within central Florida from the Ocala National Forest to south central Florida in search of V. acutifolia and V. floridana. The purpose of this trip was to gather samples from a wide range of populations for DNA analysis to look for historical gene flow with Ocala Vetch in the more adjacent populations. The team located eighteen specimens of V. floridana within three separate sites in the Ocala National Forest, and 11 specimens of V. acutifolia within two sites in Highlands and Hardee Counties. An ID code was assigned to each sample, coordinates were recorded, leaf tissue was collected for DNA extraction and cuttings were taken to create an herbarium voucher. DNA extractions will be performed on the V. floridana and V. acutifolia leaf samples in the genetics laboratory at the Gardens in upcoming weeks. Photo is of a flowering specimen of V. floridana during the May trip to the Ocala National Forest.