A Global Conservation Consortium for Rhododendron

The Global Conservation Consortium for Rhododendron has been established to bring together the world’s Rhododendron experts, conservationists and the botanic garden community.

  • Status of project

  • Region

  • Topic

    Plant Conservation


BGCI is promoting the concept of a cost-efficient, rational, botanic garden-centred global system for the conservation and management of plant diversity. This system will aim to collect, conserve, characterise and cultivate samples from all of the world’s rare and threatened plants as an insurance policy against their extinction in the wild and as a source of plant material for human innovation, adaptation and resilience.

BGCI is establishing a series of consortia with specialist knowledge of particular genera that are technically challenging to conserve and manage. In alignment with the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, these consortia will deploy their unique sets of skills for effective conservation of these genera to prevent species extinctions.

Rhododendrons are stunning horticultural plants widely cultivated in temperate regions. They are associated with centres of diversity in the Himalayas and in South East Asia, where they form important components of montane ecosystems. Rhododendrons underpin livelihoods, food security and health care of local communities in their natural habitats. However, due largely to clearing land for agriculture, livestock grazing, and the impact of climate change, many of these beautiful plants are at risk of extinction. Forty-five species of Rhododendron are considered Critically Endangered, with only a few individuals remaining in the wild.

R. mallotum, an Endangered species from China and Myanmar, which is present in at least 18 collections, with four collections holding wild-source material. Photo credit: Marion MacKay
Rhododendron gumineense. Photo Credit: Andrew Rouse
Rhododendron forest in China

A Global Conservation Consortium for Rhododendron

To address this, the Global Conservation Consortium for Rhododendron (GCCR) has been established to bring together the world’s Rhododendron experts, conservationists and the botanic garden community. Established by BGCI in 2018 and led by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, it comprises experts from 16 institutions across 13 countries, including botanic gardens with diverse Rhododendron collections in Europe, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, along with botanical institutions in the centres of Rhododendron diversity in China, India, Nepal, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They work together to achieve the following objectives:

  • Establish and foster a network of experts in target groups to participate in Consortium activities
  • Identify and prioritize species of greatest conservation concern (building on the outputs of the GTA) and plan conservation action for target groups
  • Establish and manage coordinated ex situ collections of high conservation value to support in situ action
  • Undertake and facilitate applied research (e.g. conservation biology, population genetics, taxonomy)
  • Ensure that threatened species are conserved in situ
  • Build capacity to empower and mobilize in-country partners in centres of diversity to act for target species in these areas
  • Increase public awareness and engagement in tree conservation
  • Raise funding to scale up conservation action for target groups

Key achievements

The inaugural meeting of the GCCR was held from 17th to 18th of April 2018, organised and sponsored by Oak Spring Foundation, Virginia, USA and BGCI. Sixteen representatives attended the meeting from botanic gardens and arboreta from all over the world. Dr Marion Mackay, Senior Lecturer at Massey University, New Zealand presented an Updated Global Analysis of ex situ conservation of Rhododendrons L. (MacKay et al. 2018).

The key findings of the ex situ collections analysis in this report were:

  • Out of 1386 described Rhododendron taxa, 1017 Rhododendron taxa are in cultivation (73%);
  • A wide range of Rhododendron taxa are ‘in cultivation’, providing an excellent basis for the development of an ex situ collections network;
  • Neither taxa overall nor Red List taxa presently achieve the 75% required in cultivation to meet Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation;
  • Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, China and Malaysia are priority countries for botanic institutions to focus in situ conservation efforts.

A productive outcome of this meeting was the unanimous agreement by all participants that it would be beneficial to form a global consortium of botanical institutions with expertise in the conservation and cultivation of Rhododendron, in order to ensure that no species of Rhododendron becomes extinct.

For more information about the GCCR please contact Alan Elliott, Biodiversity Conservation Network Manager at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.