From the Digest

Keeping the Pieces

PhotoBy Joe Merkelbach (October 2011)

The HSCSS connection with the Missouri Botanical Garden makes us aware of the many ways that plant conservatories and gardens are very important in keeping plant species alive all over the earth. The recent promise of a restored show house for desert plants is a thrilling prospect for all our members.

There are botanical gardens worldwide that showcase collections of succulents with their striking architectural forms and frequently dazzling flowers. For many years, the bizarre appeal of the plants with their odd shapes, spiky defenses and colorful blooms were simply a good draw to bring the public to visit gardens.

Now the involvement of scientific disciplines has given botanic gardens a major role in keeping species alive. Plant conservatories worldwide are very often leaders in preserving specimens and genetic materials that keep plants, including many species of cacti and succulents, living even if their natural habitats are under severe stress from human use.

Botanic Garden Conservation International and the International Organization for Succulent Plant Study have recently united in a cooperative effort to develop a complete database of ex situ (in cultivation) plants in collections out of natural habitat – plants that are worthy of species protection. This is a means of getting private collectors informed and involved in helping to keep succulent plants from going extinct.

Keeping the plants going in public botanical gardens and in smaller research and private collections is also a means of keeping species that might be restored to natural environments if they are recovered to the point of restoration. This project is a manifestation of hope for the future.

Restoration of a public desert display house in St. Louis will help to inform the public about the wonder and beauty of cacti and succulents, and cause them to be more highly valued as life forms worthy of preservation.

Even if we do not have endangered plants ourselves, through our opportunity to work in cooperation with Missouri Botanical Garden, we can help to preserve species of cacti and succulents that are pieces of the rich tapestry of life.