Saving Endangered Plants

Tue, 06 Sep 2011 19:24:28 PDT
Lee's comments correspond with own findings in all too many cases. Collector
enthusiasm followed up with nice presentations and then by inadequate care
has led to the loss of much material. Granted that, in many cases,
non-collection would result in loss, collection has often resulted in losses
as well. We are destroying our planet and keeping tabs on all of our
collected species seems to be beyond us, I regret to say. It's difficult to
hold on permanently to the remnants of an ecology.  


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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