Saving Endangered Plants

Lee Poulsen
Tue, 06 Sep 2011 17:09:18 PDT
On Sep 6, 2011, at 9:28 AM, J.E. Shields wrote:

> However, when I tried to find 
> refuges in botanical gardens for rare bulb species being salvaged from 
> development sites in Spain, I got short shrift.  We had all the proper 
> papers, and they included my signature promising not to let the bulbs get 
> into commercial channels.  I eventually did get them all placed with 
> reasonably secure institutions, but no one would or could guarantee me that 
> they would not have been destroyed or lost in the future.  I'm not really 
> confident that any of them are still alive.

This point of Jim's reminded me of a visit I was fortunate to make with Bill Baker who passed away unexpectedly a year ago or so.
In his younger years (can't remember exactly: late '70s or the 1980s), he and two others spent 6 months roaming all over Bolivia and nearby countries, collecting seeds and bulbs of many, many different plants. Every week or two, they would clean and package everything they collected and ship a package back to the U.S. to people who would get everything planted for them. Bill told me that they came upon many different Hippeastrum species, for example, including a number that I've seen mentioned, but have never seen offered nor ever seen in the flesh, as well as several that they could not identify. When they finally returned to the States, they divided up everything they collected such that each of the three got at least one of each species they collected, and sometimes more. Bill donated the extras of everything he collected to botanical gardens or university collections; I think UCLA or UC Santa Barbara were the main recipients of his portion. He kept one of almost all the bulb species for example. He thinks the other two people may have done similarly, but the personal collections of both the other two have basically disappeared due to life's circumstances. And he got busy with family and a commercial nursery business and lost interest in all the Hippeastrum species that required more than a slight amount of care. Other than a large number of first generation hybrids (almost all of them with H. papilio--which produced hybrids that needed very little care, but in which the papilio coloration dominated), he only had a couple of species left at the time I visited him. I asked about the places he or the other two had deposited many of the species and he said those had all been lost over the years, usually due to changes along the way in the people who directed or managed the various collections, which included people with little interest in Hippeastrum, for example, during various time periods. So consequently, the species were not well cared for during those times and were eventually lost.

Since I happen to like all Hippeastrum, species or hybrids, I expressed dismay. But Bill didn't seem to think it any great loss, especially because of the extra care some of them required to thrive in Southern California's climate. He showed me a shelf full of his meticulously written log books from that collection period, listing every species and location, of which he was obviously proud. But it seems somehow a moot thing since neither he nor his cohorts, nor the gardens/collections where all those plants ended up, still have much of them remaining. It makes me wonder where I should leave my collection many years from now when I get too old to take care of them or pass away myself. I've already told my wife that if I suddenly die, which gardens in this area *not* to give them to, since I don't trust them to either want to take care of them, or to distribute them to the public even should they want them. (Actually I told her to contact PBS first and ask them what she should do with my plants, should anything that unfortunate occur.) I know something different, but with the same eventual result, happened to UC Irvine's fantastic collection of South African Cape bulbs, but Harold Koopowitz never related the full story to me.

Anyway, I'm not sure what the best way to keep rare plants going in the ex situ world except maybe through the continual sharing via BXs and other types of trading, and the existence of nurseries and mail order seed places like Tony's or Rachel Saunders's or Diana Chapman's or similar.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USA - USDA Zone 10a
Latitude 34°N, Altitude 1150 ft/350 m

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