San Diego Zoo Global’s Native Plant Seed Bank has been working hard this year as a member of the California Plant Rescue partnership (CaPR). Coordinated by the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), CaPR is a collaboration among many of the botanical gardens, seed banks, and botanical organizations in California to conserve the rarest and most threatened plant species throughout the state and northwestern Baja California. The purpose of CaPR is the long-term conservation of wild populations of these species through seed banking and fieldwork. At the Native Plant Seed Bank, this has meant working with the City of San Diego and other land managers to gain access and find these rare populations, monitor the blooming cycle, and eventually make a responsible seed collection. We spent many long days in the field, hiking in search of flowering populations that would hopefully produce viable seeds.
We had great success this year, making 14 different seed collections from very rare plant populations. The following seed collections are a few we are most excited about:
Other particularly rare seed collections were made from the coast wallflower Erysimum am mophilum and Lakeside lilac Ceanothus cyaneus.
It is hard to overstate the importance of these seed collections. These are populations of species that are at risk of disappearing in the wild—species that occur in our backyard, and while not as charismatic as many endangered animal species, they too may not escape extinction without our help. Seeds have the remarkable ability to go into a dormant state when frozen, and remain alive for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. We can freeze and save thousands of living individuals in the Native Plant Seed Bank using relatively little space. Seeds saved today might become the only survivors of some of these plant populations. They might, one day, be all that is left. It is the amazing ability of these seeds to hibernate for years that allows us to work on the front line in our fight against extinction in the globally rare, threatened plant community in San Diego County.
Joe Davitt is a Schlum Fellow in Plant Conservation at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.