More than 4,500 Rare & Endangered Plants Facing Extinction in North America

Leading Plant Conservationists Meet in San Diego to Find Solution

Conservation professionals from more than 42 members of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), a network of participating botanic gardens and plant conservation organizations throughout the United States – including San Diego Zoo Global – met in San Diego May 4-6, 2017, to share and learn from each other the cutting-edge science and technology used to save rare and endangered flora.

About 4,500 of the roughly 18,500 species of plants in the U.S. and Canada are considered to be of conservation concern, with almost 1,000 of them either listed under the federal Endangered Species Act or qualified for listing. Without human intervention, many of them will be gone within the next few decades. The CPC and its partnering institutions have become known worldwide as leaders in saving endangered plants.

“Participants in this year’s meeting not only represent the leading expert in plant conservation in the country, but the world,” said John Clark, Ph.D., CEO and president of the Center for Plant Conservation. “Through this effort, more endangered plants have a chance at survival.”

Plants play a vital role in forming the backbone of ecosystems. Oxygen is created by plants as a byproduct of photosynthesis; plants regulate the water cycle by helping distribute and purify the planet’s water; everything humans eat comes directly or indirectly from plants; other species of fish and wildlife also depend on plants for food and shelter; plants store carbon and help keep much of the carbon dioxide produced from the burning of fossil fuels out of the atmosphere; many medicines come directly from plants or plant derivatives.

CPC network gardens are helping to reduce extinction risk of the rarest plants in North America. In 2016 with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the organization collectively made 37 seed collections of 30 globally rare species that occurred on federal lands. These seed collections safeguard the genetic resources of some of the rarest plant populations in the U.S. They provide a resource for future recovery actions and are a safety net against catastrophic loss. All seed collections are stored at the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colo.

The species collected will become part of the CPC National Collection of endangered species. Our network participating institutions are custodians of these species ex-situ. In addition, they contribute to in-situ conservation actions.

San Diego Zoo Global’s wildlife conservation efforts have long included both plants and animals. The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are home to one of the most extensive collections of plants anywhere in North America—many of them imperiled.

The botanical focus of San Diego Zoo Global is on sustainability and restoration of native ecosystems, seed science, habitat monitoring and management, plant-animal interactions, and recovery programs for rare and endangered species. Projects link applied research, conservation outreach, education, and capacity-building activities to support conservation and threatened habitats.

In 2016, San Diego Zoo Global’s Applied Plant Ecology Division was consolidated and restructured under a new plant conservation umbrella that allowed the organization to seamlessly merge its botanical collection planning and plant conservation research efforts with those of the CPC.

The Center for Plant Conservation is based in San Diego County at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research in Escondido, Calif.