Gardens

VanDusen Garden Conservation

On a recent tour through VanDusen Botanical Garden, our guide mentioned that the Garden has about 100 rare plants. “These are plants that would be considered endangered or at risk,” Harry Jongerden, VanDusen’s Garden Director, told me Monday. Sometimes a plant can be rare in one area but common elsewhere, so the 100 or so plants at VanDusen in this category are actually in danger in the wild rather than simply rare.

“All the plants that make it into this category are documented,” Harry continued. This means that the species is known and records are maintained. “Plant conservation actually begins with that base of knowledge. You can’t conserve something if you don’t know what it is.”

The records allow VanDusen to discuss the species they have with other botanical gardens. Botanical gardens are moving towards the path zoos have taken – cooperatively managing captive breeding. If, for example, there are 40 gardens with a certain plant that can no longer be found in the wild, the gardens can work together, share databases and plan a conservation strategy.

Usually botanical gardens get new plants from taking the seeds of plants in the wild, while leaving the plant where it is. And “gardens try to collect seeds from a wide range of plants from the same species,” Harry explained. Seed banks such as Kew Garden’s Millenium Seed Bank deep freeze the seeds and preserve them until such time as they are needed.

VanDusen BC plantsAlso, at VanDusen volunteers collect seeds in the Garden. The Franklinia, a flowering tree that apparently has not been seen in the wild (in the southeast US) since the 1830’s, is part of this program. Today the Franklinia survives in about 40 botanical gardens.

Sometimes plants are brought to the Garden by people who find plants during land renovations or construction start ups. This year, Harry recalled, a naturalist found some Lupinus Rivularis (streambank/river lupine) uprooted and brought the endangered and protected plant to VanDusen.  The Garden managed to revive about half the plants.

Plants can go extinct in the wild due to many factors, such as a change in soil ph or too much wetland habitat destruction, Harry explained. Animals can also play a role – one example is that wolves keep elk populations in check so they don’t overgraze the plants, so if the wolves are exterminated the plants also disappear. Loss of biodiversity is both a moral issue as well as a scientific issue, Harry suggests and I agree with him.

As well as a bastion of plant conservation, the VanDusen Botanical Garden’s 55 acres are a wonderful natural environment in the heart of Vancouver.

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Alison Wheatley

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