Sharing seeds of rare plants

Tony Avent
Wed, 12 Nov 2014 04:05:47 PST
I have had more dealings with the self-appointed controllers of rare plants than I'd like to remember.  I find their arguments devoid of any logic and find their arrogance disappointing.  First, if anyone believes that climate changes, then the least effective method of conserving a rare plant would be in situ conservation.  Propagation and widespread distribution is far more logical.  While in situ conservation makes us feel good and may be fine in the short term, it really isn't a good long term conservation strategy.

I dealt with the  "preserve this ideal point in time because it makes me feel worthy" plant crowd when serving an 8-year term with on our NC Rare Plant Scientific Committee.  I once mentioned propagating the rare native Echinacea laevigata and the purists on the committee immediately threw up the standard response....the lunacy of genetic contamination if plants are planted near the a conservation site.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but few plants would exist today without genetic exchange between populations, since as we all know, genetic bottlenecks usually lead to long term population decline and reductions in adaptability.  The US has been glaciated 17 times, during which plants were moved all around the continent.  It is this constant movement that keeps populations reinvigorated, as opposed to the isolation that exists now as natural distributions have been interrupted by humans.  Also, would it not be worse on a natural population of Echinacea laevigata if a homeowner plan
 ted the commonly sold Echinacea purpurea near the preserve since echinaceas  are notorious cross breeders?   Even this, according to Dr. Rob Griesbach of the USDA would be a good idea, since according to him, the  most efficient way to preserve to genetics is to create hybrids since these store all of the genetics from several parents in a single offspring.   The entire notion of preserving rare plant genetics is actually a modus operandi to preserve the flow of grant money to fund people with this myopic view of nature.

I also like to bring up to the plant conservation idealists...why are you preserving a rare plant?  Most plants are rare because they are poorly adaptable..often existing in a very specialized, limited size ecosystem.  It seems to me that these plants were destined by nature to go extinct, if you consider historical climate change part of nature.

Finally, if the plant is not going to be used by humans, what is the point of preservation, if you limit human access and use?  In my world, any use that has an economic benefit would be desirable, since this is the basis of our human society.  Our current system is sadly broken, but the until there is a major backlash against the academic elite of the world, both plants and humans will suffer.   Just my two cents.

Tony Avent
Plant Delights Nursery @
Juniper Level Botanic Garden
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, North Carolina  27603  USA
USDA Hardiness Zone 7b
"I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it least three times"

From: pbs [] On Behalf Of Hannon
Sent: Tuesday, November 11, 2014 11:19 PM
To: Pacific Bulb Society
Subject: [pbs] Sharing seeds of rare plants

Jane brings up some challenging aspects of enjoying and sharing rare bulbs.
I have been involved in several rare plant restoration projects (not bulbs)
and have an interest in cultivating uncommon bulbs so will add a few
comments on a complicated subject.

When someone puts forth the idea that there is a supposed risk of
hybridization or genetic erosion of a rare plant held in captivity in
private hands it presupposes, among other possibilities, that 1) the
cultivated plants are being grown in proximity to a wild population that
could be contaminated, or 2) the cultivated material will be used in future
restoration projects to help a particular species. Both of these scenarios
are exceedingly unlikely for any particular species.

In consideration of conservation issues, why should there be any
restriction on any cultivated rare plant that has been artificially
propagated? This is where CITES, in not regarding nursery grown plants as
procedurally distinct from wild-collected plants, fails to balance the
needs of people and plants. Some plants are at risk from over-collecting
certainly, but the far greater threat to rare plants-- all plants-- is
habitat alteration or destruction. That is a much more difficult problem to
subdue than supposed transgressions of the nursery trade and collectors.

No one can say what is the harm in gathering a pinch of seed from any
population of plants, rare or otherwise. Since bona fide seed banks
regularly collect seed from populations of endangered species with
scientific guidance we could assume that sampling per se is not harmful.
Should collecting wild material of a rare species for a purpose other than
authorized conservation work be illegal? Who decides what is appropriate
utilization of these resources?

Only by cultivating rare plants can we learn the skills needed to supply
market demand (e.g., Cypripedium reginae, Tecophilaea cyanocrocus) and at
the same time be able to assist restoration efforts of those same species.
Expert horticultural ability is not in the skillet of the biologists,
ecologists and land managers who take up reintroduction work directly. This
is one of their greatest weaknesses for project success and also an
opportunity to build bridges. At the same time, we should remember that
reintroduction work adheres to strict scientific guidelines for the long
and complex process of outplanting experiments. "Horticultural" material of
rare plants, even when documented, would only very rarely be considered for
such work. In this sense our beloved plants are not conservation material
but they are just as important in their role as the subject of an essential
human endeavor.

It is debatable if the display or availability of rare or endangered
(listed) plants risks someone being inspired to then go out and take plants
or seeds from the wild. A much more likely and demonstrable outcome is that
cultivated rare plants inspire people to appreciation (apart from growing)
of precious natural resources and raise awareness of the importance of
conservation and stewardship. Those who would advocate that stewardship
should be restricted solely to nature management need to provide a sound
argument for that position and explain where the importance of rarity
trails off and we can then justify the asters, daylilies and liquidambars
all around us.

"*Do we have a moral duty, then, to abandon **Fritillaria liliacea or
Erythronium elegans to extinction?*" Jane, I think that would
be abandonment of moral duty.

Dylan Hannon

*"The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an
useful plant to its culture..." --**Thomas Jefferson*
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