Conservation & Trade Ethics: Proposals & Advocacies?

Jane McGary
Sat, 05 Jul 2008 10:37:16 PDT
As a grower of some rare bulbous species (mostly obtained by purchasing 
seeds from Ron Ratko and the Archibalds), I constantly feel anxious about 
the ethics of what I'm doing. I don't purchase bulbs from any supplier I 
think may be dealing in wild-collected mature plant material, and I should 
point out that "nursery cultivated" and "nursery propagated" are not the 
same thing: If wild-collected bulbs are kept in a farm situation for one 
growing season, it is legal to call them "nursery cultivated."

One thing I think about is how significant a species may be. There exist, 
for example, entities identified as "species" that have only a single known 
population, such as Lilium pitkinense and Brodiaea pallida in California. 
These plants, which some believe to be recent results of natural 
hybridization, are interesting in terms of evolution and should be 
maintained for the increase of knowledge (the lily is, I think, in a 
carefully protected marsh; not sure about the brodiaea's protection), but I 
wonder how significant they are in the broader ecological sense? Both 
botanists and gardeners have, from time to time, found unusual plants in 
the wild that proved to be hybrids, or mutations or polyploids of more 
common species, whose long-term survival was unlikely because of poor 
reproductive ability -- for instance, Hymenoxys lapidicola (Asteraceae), 
with magnificent flowers but seeds that are too heavy for the 
wind-distribution typical of the genus. Is taking seed from such a 
population and cosseting it in gardens an unethical interference in 
"nature," or is it inconsequential in the long term? Is it more unethical 
to grow Lilium pitkinense (if you could) than to grow Lilium 'Silk Road' (a 
cultivar that was created by hand-pollination and embryo rescue)?

I haven't been impressed by the efforts at reintroduction that I've seen in 
my region. I've collected seed for revegetation efforts, but in some 
instances I found that the agencies responsible had no one who understood 
how to raise the seedlings. The best success seems to be with protection 
(excluding grazing animals at crucial times) and eradication of invasive 
exotic plants, along with allowing the normal fire cycle. There's no point 
in raising and planting an endangered species in its historic range if it's 
just going to get smothered by blackberries and broom or eaten by cattle 
and deer.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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