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 2018 Highlights:

Statewide NetworkingShoreline ExpeditionDuke Energy Signature EventLooking at pollinatorsBegonias¿Cómo hablas database?

Statewide Networking for Rare Plant Conservation

Ziziphus celata fruitWith grant support from the state of Florida Department of Agriculture and ConsumerServices Division of Plant Industry, Bok Tower Gardens and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens coordinate the state-wide Rare Plant Task Force meeting every spring. This annual meeting brings together scientists, land managers, and other conservation professionals to discuss priorities, hear latest findings, and forge new partnerships.

In April 2018, the Task Force was successfully held at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, with the overarching meeting topic of “The Impact of Climate Change and Natural Disasters on Plant Conservation.” Roughly 60 attendees enjoyed a welcome by the Zoo’s Executive Director, Tony Vecchio, a keynote address by Dr. Reed Noss, and a day of varied presentations. The meeting also served as the second annual Florida Plant Conservation Alliance meeting that took place as a group-wide discussion to update information on plant species and plan strategies together. An end-of-day social in The Range of the Jaguar followed the meeting. Optional half-day field trips were offered the second day to Pumpkin Hill, Cary State Forest, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve a boat trip on the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Feedback was very positive, and based on this we are looking forward to planning the 2019 Rare Plant Task Force.

Expedition to locate species along Forest shorelines

2017 Rare Plant Task ForceIn May, we partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and the Florida DEP to survey along many miles of spring, lake and river shorelines to document locations of the rare Ocala Vetch, Vicia ocalensis. The extent of the species within the known populations was updated, and we were able to document its rejuventation within a location where plants had not been seen since 2003. In addition, two previously undocumented populations were located and mapped. In addition to locating the Ocala Vetch, we mapped locations of additional native and several invasive species to provide to land managers for their records. This survey was accomplished over four days with the help of at least 35 volunteers each day. During these days we also collected pollinator observations to begin a study into the breeding system of the species, and recorded floral visitations by honeybees, the American Bumblebee, the Common Eastern Bumblebee, green metallic sweat bees, and two unidentified lepidopterans, among others.

The photo shows volunteers Christine Donovan and Bruce Douglas alongside a cascading clump of the Ocala Vetch during pollinator observations on May 22nd .

A Duke Energy Signature Event for Scrub habitat restoration

Showy Dawnflower rescueFor the second consecutive year, Bok Tower Gardens hosted the Duke Energy Signature Event at one of our work sites in Polk County. The 2018 Event was held on May 7 th at Lake Blue Scrub in Auburndale where 50 Duke Energy employees used chainsaws and hand tools to remove dense overgrown oaks and invasive trees from Scrub habitat to create open sunny areas preferred by the rare plants and wildlife of this unique habitat. Scrub is a globally rare, fire-adapted habitat, and found along the ancient ridge systems that are remnant coastal dunes formed millions of years ago when water levels were much higher than they are today. Due to urban growth and agriculture operations, scrub habitat has been severely fragmented. Most of the remaining habitat is degraded, primarily due to the suppression of the natural periodic occurrence of fire that formed this unique landscape.

Land managers are faced with challenges when reintroducing fire since many of these parcels are imbedded within dense urban areas, which create a high risk of fire hazard to the surrounding community. For this reason, the environmental conditions needed to burn are very restrictive, and land managers often employ surrogate management techniques like mechanical removal of woody vegetation when conditions are not conducive for prescribed fire. This method, however, is time consuming and can be very expensive for land managers that are pinched financially and low on personnel.

The Scrub habitat at Lake Blue Scrub is home to numerous endangered, endemic species, including a population of Scrub lupine, Lupinus aridorum, which we introduced several years ago. The Duke Energy Event went a long way in helping to restore the sand and canopy gaps that characterize optimal habitat for many of these species. It also provided an opportunity for Duke Energy to be part of a project in support the community, and strengthen the invaluable partnership between Bok Tower Gardens and Duke Energy, which together are able to tackle locally important conservation projects.

Photo credit: Nancy Dodd, Duke Energy.

Looking at pollinators of the rare Florida Ziziphus

Lake Louisa State ParkIn early 2018, the Rare Plant Conservation Program
embarked on a new study to learn what insects pollinate the very rare Florida Ziziphus.

The Florida Ziziphus, Ziziphus celata, is endemic to Polk and Highlands Counties. It is an extremely rare shrub with zigzag branches and straight thorns. Mature individuals flower profusely in mid- to late winter. However, the species is self-incompatible, and nine of the 15 currently known populations each consist of ramets of a single clone. As a result, almost no fruit is produced in natural populations,and seedlings have never been observed in the wild. The ex situ National Collection at Bok Tower Gardens houses over 400 Z. celata plants, among which are represented previously geographically isolated genotypes. These plants interbreed through open pollination in the Gardens, and thereby produce the vast global majority of Z. celata fruit. Several thousand fruit are produced annually, providing the only opportunity to study the seed biology of this species.

Although insects have been casually observed visiting the multitude of flowers each year, they have never been formally documented. In January 2018, more formal observations were initiated. This involved counting the number of each species that visited select plants. Insect visitors included flies, bees, lepidopterans, ants and ladybugs. Plans are to perform a second year of observations during flowering in early 2019.

These Aren’t Your Grandmother’s Begonias

2017 Duke Energy Signature EventAs a member of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), a nationwide network of gardens dedicated to preserving rare species, Bok Tower Gardens participates in the annual CPC meeting to strengthen the national plant conservation network, forge partnerships and share stories and findings. From May 3-5, 2018, representatives from CPC institutions across the country, including Phil Gonsiska, BTG’s Rare Plant Curator, converged on Fort Worth, TX for the annual national meeting at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT).

One of the many highlights of this year’s meeting was a tour of the nearby Fort Worth Botanic Garden, with an opportunity to see its collection of the genus Begonia. While gardeners in North America are familiar with the common wax begonia (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum) and a couple species of cane-forming and rhizomatous begonias, most people are unaware that there are approximately 1700 species of in the genus which are found in tropical areas worldwide. These cousins of our cultivated begonias are resplendent in their variety, some with incandescent orange flowers, or fur, or alien-looking projections emerging from their leaves. Like many other tropical plants, begonias are threatened by habitat destruction from deforestation, logging, mining, and agriculture. In order to prevent the extinction of these plants, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden maintains a collection of over 300 species of Begonia.

¿Cómo hablas database?

Ocala Vetch analysisAnyone who has ever traveled to a non-English speaking country understands the difficulties of communicating in another language. Some miscommunications can be amusing, such as trying to order the croque monsieur in a French restaurant and getting the escargot instead. Others can be potentially life- threatening, such as receiving the wrong antibiotic for one’s dog bite. In a process that mimics the evolution of spoken language, botanical institutions keep records of their collections, usually in electronic databases. As each institution personalizes its data management system to fit its particular needs and culture, the “language” of that database becomes unlike that used by other botanical institutions. The result is that each institution “speaks database” in its own, unique way. This impedes communication, because one of the major ways that botanists communicate with each other is by sharing their databases.

Anything that hinders a botanist’s ability to share information about the plants in their collections also hinders their ability to protect the species that their plant collections exist to protect. Although databases are hardly the most exciting part of conservation, the ability to collect, store, and transmit knowledge accurately and in a timely manner underlies all of science, if not all of human civilization. At this year’s annual national Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) meeting in May, representatives from CPC member institutions, including Bok Tower Gardens is one, began a discussion about how to address exactly this issue. Although the conversation has only just begun, the likely result will include guidelines for the standardization of data management across the CPC. Reducing the effort necessary to translate information between gardens will save resources and thereby increase the capacity of the CPC’s member institutions to save rare plants from extinction.