The Center for Plant Conservation

By Kennedy, Kathryn | Endangered Species Bulletin, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

The Center for Plant Conservation


Kennedy, Kathryn, Endangered Species Bulletin


For the past 10 years of my work with imperiled plants, I have kept a talisman in my office: a big campaign-style button that says "Visualize Recovery." Oddly enough, whenever I glance at it, the image that springs to mind is not robust populations of plants basking in the sunshine but intent groups of people in the field working their fingers to the bone! I visualize the process, and being able to get the work done--the monitoring, seed-banking, life history research, genetic analysis, range-wide planning, site-specific prescriptions, and restoration work for imperiled populations and their supporting communities.

As of May 1, 2002, there were 743 plant species or varieties in the United States federally listed as threatened or endangered. There are an additional 139 candidates believed to qualify for listing. Together, these numbers approach 5 percent of our flora (considered to include about 20,000 species). Recovery for so many is a big job. It will take time and resources. In my years of work with endangered species at the state and federal levels, the limiting factor was always the lack of focused, sustained assistance. Recovery work involves diverse and challenging issues, so an effective recovery program clearly required teamwork. Government budgets nearly always fell short of the support needed to put those professional teams together and get the work done.

After working in government conservation agencies, I was drawn to the work of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), not only because of its accomplishments but because it still has so much potential to help through focused, productive partnerships. The CPC, established in 1984, is an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is nothing less than to conserve and restore the rare native plants of the United States. It consists of a network of 33 participating institutions (arboreta, botanical gardens, university programs, and museums) that have made a long-term commitment to assist in this mission, usually in partnership with other agencies and groups. The CPC is supported by donations and grants.

Participating institutions must agree to follow CPC standards and protocols, which the CPC establishes in cooperation in academia and conservation agencies. We have convened technical groups for advice on plant conservation issues, held symposia to investigate theoretical and applied issues that affect plant recovery, and produced two technical books.

The CPC has a small professional staff at our national office in St. Louis, hosted by the Missouri Botanical Garden. Our national office provides technical assistance within and outside the network, maintains a website and database with entries on over 8,000 taxa of conservation concern, coordinates the derivation and dissemination of best conservation practices, and provides assistance to the participating institutions in building their conservation programs. we also administer a plant sponsorship program and small endowment. The sponsorships and endowment support modest annual payments to institutions working on sponsored species and help further the CPC's collective objectives. The national office works to promote action for plant conservation in the United States as a whole, and seeks to focus attention on biodiversity hotspots and regional needs as well.

Initially, CPC's emphasis was in conservation horticulture off site (ex situ). Fifteen founding botanical institutions that dedicated time from their professional horticultural staff initiated a coordinated campaign. …

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