Cornell Botanic Gardens preserves our region’s natural heritage by conserving some of the rarest members of our flora. Our work includes conservation of one of our region’s rarest plant species, conservation of rare animals, and collaborations with national and international organizations.
Rare Plant Conservation: Saving the American Globeflower
One of our region’s rarest species, the American Globeflower (Trollius laxus ssp. laxus) is found in three of Cornell Botanic Gardens’ natural areas. In two areas the plants are naturally occurring and are actively protected. In the third area, we are intentionally introducing the American Globe Flower into the landscape. The American globeflower is an herbaceous perennial that grows in open fens and swamp margins with moderate to highly alkaline groundwater seepage. The 40 populations known worldwide are located in four northeastern states, with more than half of those populations found within a single watershed of Cayuga Lake in the Ithaca area of central New York. Our conservation work includes in situ (on site) and ex situ (outside of its natural habitat) efforts.
In Situ Conservation
Effectively conserving these American Globeflower populations requires multi-faceted adaptive management approaches.
Annual censuses of the plants are conducted to track population changes and assess overall trends, changes, and threats to inform management and conservation strategies.
Staff and volunteers control woody invasive species like common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) that alter soil chemistry and compete with the American Globeflower for light and water. Other management programs to reduce impacts from the overpopulation of white-tailed deer or minimize flooding from beaver activities are also essential and ongoing.
Shown above: American Globeflower plants thrive after cutting the invasive common buckthorn and treating the stumps with herbicide.
We recently completed a research project to determine current light levels for this partial-shade loving plant and establish a baseline condition. Future work will include partial canopy thinning and studying the changes to light and Globeflower abundance.
For small populations, conservation strategies can include augmentation to increase the population numbers. Since 2010, Cornell Botanic Gardens staff have been collecting small amounts of globeflower seed (less than 10% from any individual plant) from multiple maternal (i.e. genetic) lines as part of an augmentation program. Through an informed trial and error process, staff developed effective protocols for propagating globeflower plants, including developing procedures on seed storage, stratification, germination requirements, planting mediums, overwintering care, watering regimes and light requirements. These protocols have yielded over 60% seed germination success, and hundreds of plants grown in our production facilities.
At two years of age, Trollius plants are planted out in the fall to appropriate habitats and are monitored. Globeflower survival and vigor data (size and reproduction) is compared to environmental information, including local hydrologic conditions, canopy cover and surrounding vegetation, to help determine appropriate micro-habitat requirements for planting locations. Collectively, these approaches have resulted in over 450 individuals successfully planted out to appropriate habitats with a 90% survival rate.
Ex Situ Conservation
While protecting and managing existing populations is essential, ex situ conservation helps to protect against threats to plant populations. Whether it may be damage from a natural disaster, loss of pollinators, low genetic diversity, habitat destruction or a changing climate, preserving the genetic diversity of populations though ex situ conservation efforts is good insurance.
Through our partnership with the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), Cornell Botanic Gardens has agreed to lead the conservation efforts for the American Globeflower in the CPC’s National Collection. The National Collection of Endangered Plants is composed of the most imperiled plants in the country. An important conservation resource, the Collection is a backup in case a species becomes extinct or no longer reproduces in the wild. Live plant material is collected from nature under controlled conditions and then carefully maintained as seed, rooted cuttings or mature plants. To date, Cornell Botanic Gardens has helped collect and preserve nearly 7,000 seeds from 300 individual plants to help safeguard this species and its genetic diversity.
Our seeds are “banked” at the USDA National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) in Fort Collins, Colorado in partnership with the Center for Plant Conservation.