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Botany Brief: Taking it to the Seed Bank


Collecting seeds of longbristle beaksedge (Rhynchospora megaplumosa). Photo by Wade Collier.

Florida supports one of the highest levels of plant diversity in the country, with about 3,200 native species. However, according to the nonprofit Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), hundreds are at high risk of extinction. Selby Gardens is a partner in a new regional collaboration to save Florida’s rare plants before it’s too late.

The Florida Plant Rescue project is a statewide seed-collections effort to secure and safeguard Florida rare plant species in conservation collections at botanical gardens. CPC puts the number of plant species in the state that are considered globally rare but not currently secured in such collections at 168. The initiative is led by and funded through the CPC, with seven participating institutions and more likely to join.

The partner institutions leverage their local, hands-on expertise to identify endemic species that aren’t yet formally listed as endangered but nonetheless need protection. Then they go on collecting expeditions to wild areas throughout the state to find and secure seeds from the plants, as well as monitor additional occurrences. Selby Gardens’ work so far has targeted three species: Manasota pawpaw (Asiminamanasota) and longbristle beaksedge (Rhynchospora megaplumosa), both from populations at Lake Manatee State Park; and the rare, epiphytic Florida star orchid (Epidendrum floridense), which occurs in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

Epidendrum floridense plant growing in a deep water slough. Photo: Tatiana Arias.

“Saving rare plant seeds in conservation collections like this can safeguard a species against extinction,” says Bruce Holst, Selby Gardens’ vice president for botany. “Conservation and protecting plant biodiversity have been important activities since Selby Gardens was founded. This strategic initiative can safely secure rare plants long into the future.”

The seven participating institutions in Center for Plant Conservation’s Florida Plant Rescue initiative are:

• Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
• Bok Tower Gardens
• Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
• Atlanta Botanical Garden
• Montgomery Botanical Center
• Florida Native Plant Society
• Naples Botanical Garden