Protecting and conserving plants and their ecosystems has always been the heart of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s work, and with plant diversity disappearing at an alarming rate, that work has never been more important.
Environmental protection takes many forms; here are just a few of the ways the Garden works to preserve biodiversity here at home and around the world.
Our Living Collection
The Missouri Botanical Garden holds thousands of plants in its living collection. You may be most familiar with roses, irises, azaleas, and other showy collections on public display. But the Garden also takes care of some of the rarest and most-threatened plants on the planet. Some of the highlights include a Tanzanian tree that is nearly extinct in the wild, and the world’s smallest water lily. Programs like conservation horticulture allow the Garden to continually expand the number of threatened plants we protect. Propagating, cultivating and otherwise safeguarding these plants helps ensure they won’t disappear forever.
The Garden operates more than a dozen protected sites in biodiversity-rich Madagascar, working with the local communities for sustainable conservation of habitats threatened by rapid deforestation. Many of the plants, and the animals that depend on them, are found only in Madagascar, and new species are still being discovered there.
Closer to home, the Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve showcases the diverse ecosystems found in Missouri. By protecting habitats such as prairies, wetlands, and woodlands, the Nature Reserve creates healthy homes for animal inhabitants such as the endangered Indiana bat.
The Garden’s efforts to safeguard plants extends to their seeds as well. Seed banks hold seeds in a deep-freeze environment to keep them dormant until they are ready to be grown into plants. Not only does collecting and preserving seed help protect biodiversity, it can also capture genetic diversity within a particular species. Along with many Missouri-native plants the Garden seed bank includes endangered species from around the world, such as the seeds of a popular but threatened Christmas tree, the Fraser Fir.
Garden botanists discover and describe approximately 200 plants each year, and each newly named species expands our understanding of the natural world. This critical work is an important first step, opening the door for further conservation and research efforts. Plant discovery entails much more than just field work. Botanists rely on the extensive Garden Herbarium, a resource of more than 7 million dried plant specimens, to determine if a plant is indeed a new species and how it is related to other members of the plant kingdom.
Weeding Out Invasive Species
Invasive species threaten the health of habitats all over the globe, including here in St. Louis. The Garden is a regional leader in the battle against these ecosystem invaders and their negative effects on our local biodiversity. Chief among those threats is bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) a fast-growing, non-native shrub that out-competes our native plants for sunlight and other resources, and infesting the landscape. You can join the fight against bush honeysuckle be participating in one of the Garden’s honeysuckle sweeps, or by simply learning how to remove this invasive species in your own backyard.
Senior Digital Media Specialist