Life on Earth depends on plants

Photo by Lisa Romerein.

There is an Urgent Need for Plant Conservation

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the world’s largest and most important conservation network, as many as one in every eight species of plants is threatened with extinction worldwide.

Lotusland’s Conservation Efforts

Each year the IUCN publishes a list ranking thousands of plants as vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild or extinct. Botanic gardens play a crucial role in preserving these plants either in their native habitats or propagated in gardens.

Lotusland is is one such botanic garden and is home to over 950 species whose native populations are faced with habitat loss or over-collecting and are thus restricted from collection and international trade.

These plants are displayed at Lotusland in an effort to foster increased knowledge and appreciation of the importance of plants and the need for their conservation.

Plant Conservation

Cycad Conservation

Cycads are a class of ancient cone-bearing plants and all are restricted from international trade. Many are known to be critically endangered by encroaching human development as well as the activities of unscrupulous collectors.

Lotusland cares for representatives of nearly 200 species of cycads including three plants of Encephalartos woodii, which is now extinct in the wild. Today, offspring of the last plants to be collected in 1905 in South Africa survive only in botanic gardens and a few private collections.

While still occurring in the wild, E. latifrons has been widely collected and reports from independent sources indicate that it is no longer producing seed because of the distances separating remaining plants in South Africa.

E. paucidentatus is from a very small area of Mpumulanga, South Africa and neighboring Swaziland.

E. munchii from Mozambique is in a similar situation of restricted range and coupled with political instability its future in the wild is unknown. While propagated plants are becoming more common, the wild-collected specimens at Lotusland represent valuable germplasm from the native range. Lotusland’s four plants could contribute to future conservation efforts.

Cactus Conservation

The golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) is one of the most widely cultivated cactus, with an estimated 10-15 million individual plants growing around the world. They are found for sale in many nurseries.

However, in its native habitat in Mexico the golden barrel cactus has become one of the most critically endangered plants on the planet.

Once numerous in the states of Querétaro and Hidalgo, most of its habitat has been inundated by the construction of a dam. As few as 50 individual plants may remain in the wild. Accordingly, the IUCN has listed it as endangered.

Palm Conservation

The Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), one of the world’s longest-lived palms and the record holder for largest diameter in the palm family, is also losing ground in its native habitat.

It is an important species of the forests of central Chile. Due to cutting of the palms for agricultural land clearing, the number of J. chilensis has decreased from an estimated 5 million to about 12,000 over the past 500 years.

The remaining palms are protected for now on land declared as a nature preserve. Its IUCN status is listed as vulnerable.

Aloe Conservation

According to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) Checklist, there are over 600 species in the genus Aloe.

These succulent plants contribute significantly to the plant life of many countries on the continent of Africa and although they almost never dominate their native landscapes, they are represented in nearly all the vegetation types with the exception of the wet tropical forests.

Aloes are also found on the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Reunion and Comoros as well as the Middle Eastern countries of Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Aloes are faced with many of the same threats that affect biodiversity worldwide: agricultural and livestock activities, mining and hydroelectric projects (and their associated road building), urban expansion, competition from invasive and exotic plants, and harvesting and collecting for medicinal and economic uses (including as ornamentals).

When harvested responsibly, aloe species are not greatly endangered, but local populations can be adversely affected. Many African nations have plant conservation plans and protection laws for aloes and other plants, but they go largely unimplemented and unregulated.

All Aloe species, excluding Aloe vera, are protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. Twenty-one species (17 endemic to Madagascar) are protected under Appendix I, which prohibits any international trade except for scientific research.

Fortunately, the genus is well represented in ex situ collections with 88% of all Aloe taxa in three gardens in South Africa alone (at the Kirstenbosch, Karoo, and Pretoria National Botanical Gardens).

International Cooperation

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Photo by Lisa Romerein.

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