Every gardener a curator

Jacob Knecht jacobknecht@gmail.com
Mon, 26 Jul 2010 19:04:18 PDT
Dear Pacific Bulb Society members,

My last post (http://pacificbulbsociety.org/pbslist/old.php/…)
regarding why we should care about viruses in our geophytes may have put off
some because pathogenic virus infection is a very upsetting topic that can
leave a hobbyist feeling helpless. The reason I took the time to do this is
not because I take any joy in spreading gloom, but because I am concerned
about this serious threat to the plants we love.

As evidenced by the recent thread "What got you here?" (and the various
contributor pages on our wiki:
http://pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/…) we have
all come into the pursuit of growing bulbs and geophytes by various means.
We are a diverse group of people and not surprisingly, our plants satisfy us
for different reasons.  Some of us are attracted to bulbs because of their
toughness and reliability.  Geophytes are truly the magicians of the floral
kingdom.  The way in which they seem to completely renew themselves annually
is both inspiring and reassuring.  The range of colours that geophytes
produce is boundless and very showy species count fans among novices and
seasoned experts alike.  Some of us are drawn to their beautiful leaves or
bedevilled by their wonderful fragrances.  Also, quite often our taste in
plants evolves over time as do our reasons for growing some over others.
When I first began growing plants as a young boy I my interests were
dominated more by aesthetics than botanical significance than they are now.

Gardening is a wonderful pastime and a unique art form but one that doesn't
always have much to do with species conservation.  Because of this I realise
that my plea for increased vigilance of virus eradication may seem like a
wet blanket or simply inapplicable.  After all the vast majority of
geophytes in gardens are being grown for fun, pleasure and the sake of
artistic expression.  This is in contrast to the role of plant collection

In the past two centuries as the human race has increased habitat
destruction and the endangerment of plant species the one silver lining has
been the growth of public and private botanical gardens who have taken on
some of the newer plant discoveries and preserved them.  Sadly such
collections are now the the last refuge for many species, including
geophytes.  In our modern world, such collections are essentially living
museums that require much effort to be properly maintained.  Unfortunately
botanical gardens face increasing threats to the health of the species in
their care and even robust institutions are just one economic crisis, one
curator's retirement or one board member's decision away from being
decommissioned entirely.  At least in the United States, public funding of
botanical gardens is minuscule and most universities in the country are
eliminating their botanical gardens and arboretums (UC Santa Cruz and UC
Irvine are recent devastating examples).  Despite the dedication and passion
of private collectors, most of these meet their end when the money or health
of its owner run out.

I have seen many examples of very rare species in botanical gardens that are
riddled with virus. New research into possible methods of virus elimination
through tissue culture are exciting but are out of the reach of 99% of us
and impractical in their current form. Who can promise the next generations
of horticulturists and botanists that the species we know and grow today
will be around for them tomorrow?  What can be done?

As with most strategies for the safe-keeping of valuable assets,
diversification is probably the best answer.  Perhaps we gardeners can
evolve to think of ourselves not just as artists but also as lay curators.
Adopt a species or a genus!  Take good records, acquire multiple clones so
that new generations can be produced by seed.  When sharing or trading
plants with other enthusiasts, try to give away plants produced from seeds
instead of those from pups, corms or bulblets (mere copies).  This will
ensure a measure of genetic diversity and hope for resistance against new
generations of pests and pathogens.

Growing bulbs from seed may seem intimidating at first but it is so
rewarding and not as hard as it may seem!

Jacob U. Knecht

- http://www.flickr.com/photos/morabeza79/

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