Plant conservation guided tour
This page is designed to help botanic gardens and zoos identify and discuss plants in their collections that are threatened in their native habitats. On Plant Conservation Day, zoos and gardens are increasingly offering visitors a special tour that highlights these important species. These tours can bring visitors up close to imperiled plants, and provide a great opportunity to highlight your institution's plant conservation efforts.
The first step in planning your plant conservation tour is selecting which plants in your collection to highlight. We suggest choosing your plants based on the following three considerations: conservation status, compelling plant stories, and security issues.
Conservation Status—Which plants are threatened? Select plants that have had a conservation assessment completed and have been confirmed as threatened with extinction through one of the following three programs.
IUCN (WorldConservation Union): The global standards for conservation assessments are those of the IUCN. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species includes those that have been designated Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN) or Vulnerable (VU). As of 2006, only about 12,000 of the nearly 300,000 plant species have had a conservation status evaluation, and 8,000 of those species are considered threatened.
United States Endangered Species Act: If your collections include U.S. native plant species, then you should consider those that have been evaluated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Endangered Species Program. As of 2009, 749 native plant species in the United States have been federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.
NatureServe: Regional and state-focused plant collections in the United States and Canada will find NatureServe rankings useful. Through its network of natural heritage programs it evaluates native species for their conservation status in the U.S. and Canada. NatureServe conservation evaluations assign a "G" ranking to native species. Those species assessed with a G1, G2, or a G3 are considered at risk of extinction. As of 2006, just over 6,000 native plant species are "at risk" in the U.S. and Canada, according to NatureServe.
Compelling Plant Stories—Plants have great stories to tell. Some threatened plants have interesting ethnobotanical uses or medicinal properties. Some are valued for their beautiful flowers or wood. There are plants that were once thought extinct until a new population was discovered, and some plants that are extinct in the wild now only exist in the cultivated safety of gardens. Whatever the story, tell it and engage your visitors. Once they are engaged they will be more likely to want to help protect it and support your gardens conservation efforts. Janet Marinellis's book Plant tells the stories of 2000 of the world's most threatened plants that are also available in cultivation.
Security—Plants are already the most threatened species on the planet; a plant walk should not further endanger threatened plants in your collection. Plant theft and damage at gardens and zoos are serious problems. We don't recommend highlighting the rare and threatened plants in your public collection that can be easily dug up and damaged. Choose plants that are in secure locations if they are small and theft is a concern. Additionally, threatened trees and other woody shrubs can be interpreted with fewer security concerns. If you are unable to talk about individual plants due to security issues, talk about habitats and plant communities, and use less-threatened plants to represent habitats and communities where particular endangered plants are found.
Many of the most endangered plants are conifers, cacti/succulents, cycads, carnivorous plants, orchids, palms, bulbs and native wildflowers. These plants are often found in habitats that are highly threatened, susceptible to over-collection in the wild, and under threat from invasive species. These groups of plants are also very common in the plant collections of gardens and zoos.
Ten percent of the world's trees are threatened with extinction, including 56% of all conifers! The Global Trees Campaign website includes a searchable database of the World List of Threatened Trees and excellent tree profiles—a great resource for assembling your plant list.
BGCI's "Plant Search" is a searchable database of plant species in cultivation at botanic gardens and zoos around the world. More than 500 institutions have shared their accession data to help BGCI identify which threatened species are safe in plant collections. However, the names of gardens holding species are not available to protect the security of the plants. If your institution has not already done so, you can share your accession data with the "Plant Search" database and get a full report of the conservation status of your entire collection.