Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Conservation Collection in the Native Plant Garden

Posted in Garden News on May 14 2019, by Michael Hagen

Michael Hagen is Curator of the Native Plant Garden and the Rock Garden at The New York Botanical Garden.

Photo of the Native Plant GardenNYBG is a founding member of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), a network of now more than 50 leading botanic institutions and conservation partners. Working collaboratively since its founding in 1984, the network’s aim is to prevent the extinction of the imperiled native plants of the United States and Canada, with the only coordinated national program of off-site (ex situ) conservation of rare plant material, the National Collection of Endangered Plants. Believed to be the largest living collection of rare plants in the world, the collection contains over 1,400, almost one third, of America’s most imperiled native plants.

As an important conservation resource, the Collection is a backup in case a species becomes extinct or no longer reproduces in the wild, with live plant material collected from nature under controlled conditions and then carefully maintained as seed, rooted cuttings or mature plants. It is also a valuable resource for the scientific study of these rare plants, their life cycles and seed germination requirements.

Many of these plants in the National Collection are rare because of habitat destruction or their extreme limited geographical range. Many occur in the wild only in very specific and exacting environments, and it is often a challenge to reproduce these in cultivation— successfully unlocking the secrets of their propagation and culture is both a long and often frustrating process but is ultimately perhaps one of the most rewarding, and indeed important, tasks that we are charged with.

Photo of Helonias bullata
Helonias bullata

As a participating institution NYBG is currently the primary custodian for seven of these plants, all of which have original habitat and distribution ranges within 100 miles of New York City: Carex barratii (Barratt’s sedge), Cerastium arvense var. villosissimum (Goat Hill chickweed), Helonias bullata (swamp-pink), Marshallia grandiflora (large-flowered Barbara’s buttons), Muhlenbergia torreyana (Torrey’s muhly), Prunus maritima var. gravesii (Grave’s beach plum), and Viburnum dentatum var. venosum (southern Arrowwood).

They are grown and cared for in the 3.5-acre Native Plant Garden, a four-season horticultural display that celebrates the beauty, diversity, and ecological importance of northeastern North American plants. Nearly 700 species and cultivars of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, and ferns grow in its meadows, woodlands, and ponds.

This article originally appeared as part of the Spring-Summer 2019 issue of Garden News, NYBG’s seasonal newsletter. For further reading, view the issue online and discover a sampling of stories about current programs and undertaking at the Garden.