Endangered plants propagated by the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are being outplanting to bolster their wild populations across the United States. By combining the laboratory strengths of CREW with the field expertise of collaborators in botanical gardens, governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations, the work at CREW is being integrated into conservation efforts for species recovery and demonstrating that tissue culture propagation can be an important tool for conservation and restoration.
Added to the endangered species list in 1989, the Autumn buttercup (Ranunculus aestivalis) is one of the rarest plant species native to the western United States, known only to exist on a single preserve in Utah owned by The Nature Conservancy. It is a wet meadow perennial that grows up to two feet tall and produces bright yellow flowers.
In the early 2000s, CREW propagated Autumn buttercup plants through tissue culture and sent them to the Arboretum at Flagstaff for acclimatization over several years in robust, healthy plants in soil, ready to take on the dry winds and heat of their new Utah home.
In 2007, buttercups were outplanted on the preserve. Some survived in areas with appropriate moisture, but a second planting in 2010 was quickly eaten, apparently by voles. In June 2013, 350 more were planted. The new planting has 14 sites, seven each in grazed and ungrazed areas, and half the plants at each site will be protected from herbivores. Water availability and initial plant size were recorded for each plant. The size of the small mammal population in the area is also being studied. All of these data will be evaluated by faculty and students at Weber State University.
A perennial herb with small, white flowers, the Cumberland sandwort clings precariously to the sandy soil of sandstone rock formations in the Cumberland Plateau of southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. It is endangered, in large part due to trampling by hikers and people scavenging for Native American artifacts. CREW has been working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help preserve and protect this little plant.
In 2005, 77 Cumberland sandwort (Arenaria cumberlandensis) plants propagated at CREW were outplanted in the Daniel Boone National Forest in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service. Plants were planted in different areas of the rockhouse, in order to evaluate the microhabitats within the rockhouse, which differed in light and moisture levels. Over the course of six years, plants at several of the microsites have grown and reproduced well, indicating the viability of these methods, should they be needed to help preserve the species in the future. A genetic study is underway to analyze the genetic diversity of this new, experimental population.
Avon Park harebells (Crotalaria avonensis) is a small legume known from only three populations in south central Florida. It is specifically adapted to the sandy scrub habitat of the Lake Wales Ridge. This land is desirable for development and agriculture and much of the original habitat has been lost.
In 2012, 84 plants propagated by CREW and acclimatized by Bok Tower Gardens were planted by Archbold Biological Station researchers at a protected site. All of the plants died back, but a number of the plants were starting to regrow in 2013. The restoration is a collaborative effort of CREW, Bok Tower Gardens, and Archbold Biological Station, with funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Also known as wolfsbane, the rare northern wild monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense) is a showy perennial of the buttercup family with blue, hood-shaped flowers. The remaining known populations are found beneath rocky cliffs or along cool streams in Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and New York. (Photo: Aaron Carlson)
CREW propagated plants from shoot tips collected from wild plants. The new plants were then planted in the Gorge Metro Park near Akron, Ohio, to augment the population in 2006. The 300 plants growing in the park today may be the largest patch in the country.
Running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum) is a perennial clover that spreads by sending out long runners that creep along the ground. Found only in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia, running buffalo clover depends on the periodic disturbance of a bison’s grazing and trampling. When the bison disappeared, so did most of the running buffalo clover. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
In 2012, 75 plants propagated by CREW were planted at an experimental site near Eastern Kentucky University. Faculty and staff are testing management techniques for the plants. Additional plants are being propagated at CREW for plantings at other sites in the future. Funding and coordination of the project comes from the Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Service and Kentucky Natural Heritage.