Of the nearly 10,000 North American plant species threatened with extinction, only 39 percent are currently maintained in institutional collections, according to the first comprehensive listing of endangered plant species in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The North American Collections Assessment—conducted collaboratively by the Arnold Arboretum, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) U.S., and the U.S. Botanic Garden—found that only 3,681 of the continent’s 9,494 most threatened plant species are maintained in 230 collections.
“Until this point, nobody knew which rare North American plants were safeguarded in collections,” said Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections and one of the report’s authors. “Perhaps of greater concern is that we didn’t have a clue which ones were not in cultivation.” With this baseline information in hand, steps now can be taken to acquire those rare species not currently represented in seed banks or living collections, thus providing an insurance policy against future loss.
According to Andrea Kramer, BGCI U.S. executive director and the report’s senior author, “These assessment results are hopeful, but also a call to action. For many public gardens, this marks the first time their potential to assist in the conservation effort has been recognized. We hope this is a watershed moment.” Adds co-author Abby Hird, formerly a Putnam research fellow at the Arboretum and currently of BGCI U.S., “This project was extremely important in providing North American gardens a way to engage and contribute to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).”
Assessment results indicate that North America did not reach the GSPC Target 8 goal set in 2002 of protecting 60 percent of threatened plant species in collections by 2010. While botanical organizations across Canada, Mexico, and the United States are making progress toward achieving these targets, more than 3,500 additional threatened plant species will need to be added to current collections to meet the new GSPC goal of conserving 75 percent of known threatened species in North America by 2020. This will require nearly doubling the current capacity.