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Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.

Letter from the Editor - Winter 2009

Save the Plants

If you ever want to irk your plant conservationist friends, drone on about the cute, cuddly animals you see on the Discovery channel. Talk about their doe eyes and their playful mannerisms. And then tell them what a shame it is that so many are endangered.

It’s not that they won’t agree with you. They are cute, and it is a shame. But, plant conservationists tend to be just as moved by a picture of the endangered, east Texas native large-fruited sand verbena (Abronia macrocarpa) as they are by the panda picture. In fact, some will tell you they chose to study plants because of the relative lack of attention paid them. And, they know that not only are there many plants in danger but that without them there would be no animals.

In the United States overall, about one in five native plant species are threatened with extinction. In Texas, home to the first plant placed on the Endangered Species List, there are 23 endangered and five threatened plant species. For another 200-plus species, we just don’t know enough to make informed decisions about their care.
Wildflower Center conservationists who represent Texas in conservation matters of global significance had much to celebrate this fall. The Millennium Seed Bank – an international partnership of 54 countries led by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and including the Wildflower Center – is celebrating a decade of work to set aside seeds for future generations from 10 percent of the world's wild flowering species.

Thousands of seeds from nearly 25,000 native plants have been collected and frozen at locations including the Wildflower Center as part of this $108 million project that is the largest seed bank dedicated to wild plant species in the world.

Since 2000, two full-time Wildflower Center staff for the Millennium Seed Bank Project and their counterparts in the U.S. and 53 other countries have gathered seeds for posterity from the world's wild flowering plants. Since 2002, Michael Eason and Minette Marr have spent an average of 9 months a year away from friends and family. On the road, they have climbed rocky slopes in West Texas to identify angel's trumpets as their tiny white flowers open in the cool evening air, searched for devil's head cactus in triple-digit temperatures in the Chihuahuan desert and waded through East Texas bogs to reach pitcher plants resembling calla lilies.

Their efforts were not for naught. During the Millennium Seed Bank Project's first phase that ends this year, they've created a nest egg of 10,000 to 20,000 seeds from 590 native plants in the state. A Center goal of collecting seeds from an additional 800 or so species has been set for the project's next decade.

The Wildlflower Center also is one of 36 institutions throughout the country and three in Texas participating in the Center for Plant Conservation network (CPC). Dedicated solely to preventing America’s native flora from becoming extinct and celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the CPC maintains The National Collection of Endangered Plants, with 13 million seeds and plants of more than 700 of the country’s most imperiled native plants. In addition, the Wildflower Center joins other CPC institutions in monitoring rare plant sites and on plant reintroduction efforts into the wild. Read more about this organization and its anniversary in the article “Treasure Hunt,” on pages 5 and 6.

Also in this issue is the article “Cloud City,” where Andrea Abel discusses Mexico’s El Cielo Biosphere Reserve – a rare cloud forest in northern Mexico that is of significant conservation concern for the plant and animal life there.

And Melissa Gaskill challenges you to make one of your New Year’s resolutions volunteering on behalf of plants. “People Power” on page 20 discusses opportunities throughout the country that help conserve native plants and landscapes.

Imagine how proud your plant conservationist friends would be if you were to take such a trip. — Christina K. Procopiou

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