Remote Research: Out of the Woods


Throughout the world, closures and lockdowns aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted many people’s lives and work. As a global institution, the Missouri Botanical Garden does research around the world, making travel restrictions a major hindrance. The “stay at home” order means staff has lost access to the Garden’s herbarium and labs, too.

But of course, they’ve adapted. Some are using the time to catch up on data analysis. Others are completing manuscripts, which communicate the findings of their work, and floras, a descriptive list of plants in a particular region. And in more remote locations, like protected sites in Madagascar, conservation efforts go on.

“None of us are running out of stuff we can do,” says Jim Miller , Senior Vice President of Science and Conservation.  “Everybody’s got a laptop, we’re all able to work.”

In a typical spring, Senior Horticulturist David Gunn would be tackling pruning projects in the woodlands he cares for and aggressively weeding to make sure the Garden was in top form to welcome its many spring visitors. 

This spring, he was also set to embark on a trip in late May that would take him through Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, where he and others would do scouting for the Tree Gene Conservation project.

Instead, the trip was cancelled and Gunn spent May at home, unable to visit Garden grounds.

But that doesn’t mean his work protecting trees has stopped.

Shortly after the St. Louis stay-at-home order went into place, several of the Garden’s horticulturists shifted their work to look at a list of 70,000 potentially “at-risk” target species across the Caucuses, Russia, Central Asia, and China. Staff were divided into teams to tackle sublists, like shrubs, bulbs, or trees. Gunn is on the tree team.

The goal is to research each species to determine hardiness in the St. Louis region and ornamental value on Garden grounds.

“This way, we can whittle the list down, and have good information when putting together collection trips, with a clearer focus on collecting species that thrive on the grounds,” Gunn explains. “This will allow us to continue developing the collection, and conserve time and resources in the field and greenhouses.” 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every facet of our lives, the Garden’s critical work conserving plant life goes on. These efforts would not be possible without your support. Consider helping us continue our mission in these uncertain times by becoming a member or making a donation.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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