By Elan Alford, Conservation Fellow
Conservation is at the heart of Mt. Cuba Center. Our team researches, preserves, and protects native plants and passionately educates the plant community on their value. We’ve committed to an even greater degree and joined the Center for Plant Conservation as a new Participating Institution. The Center for Plant Conservation is a network of botanical gardens and organizations that are committed to conserving plants and saving them from extinction. The organization calls itself a “brain trust of plant conservation experts”. It safeguards rare plants by advancing science-based conservation practices, connecting and empowering plant conservationists, and inspiring all to protect biodiversity for future generations.
In a historic first — Mt. Cuba Center is the first Delaware organization to join this illustrious plant conservation organization. Through an all-team effort, we are now better connected to the leaders in the plant conservation field.
To apply to the Center for Plant Conservation, the Division of Conservation & Research undertook a process of documenting the conservation work conducted at the garden. I worked with Amy Highland, conservation lead, and Eileen Boyle, director of conservation to prepare the application materials by highlighting the conservation projects that are underway or have been conducted at the garden. In the process of applying we reviewed an impressive array of projects and partnerships that have been fostered here. As a new member of the Mt. Cuba team, it allowed me to see the depth of this organization’s impact. From citizen scientist work to trial garden research and reforestation studies, Mt. Cuba is home to a team of professionals that practice conservation every single day.
Some examples of Mt. Cuba Center’s conservation projects are:
- We engage in land conservation. To date, Mt. Cuba has protected more than 13,000 acres of land in the mid-Atlantic region, including the lands that became Delaware’s First State National Historical Park. This is done through the purchase of targeted land parcels that are then donated to land conservation organizations for management and protection.
- In our Natural Lands we actively turn large parcels of farmland back into native forest with the goal of identifying best practices for effectively increasing core forest.
- Our greenhouse is involved in rigorous studies to determine how to propagate difficult or underutilized plants so they can be re-established in the natural landscape. Some of our propagation protocols are published online at the U.S. Forest Service National Reforestation, Nurseries, Genetic Resources Program (RNGR) including a protocol for federally threated Amaranthus pumilus.
- Mt. Cuba Center funds plant research by professionals and students. A recent example from the professional side are the bee studies on native plants at Mt. Cuba Center, conducted by Sarver Ecological. Mt. Cuba Center sponsors graduate students at various universities to conduct targeted plant research. An example of this is our sponsoring the students working on “Viny Viornas and Establishing the Premier Collection of the North American Leatherflowers.”
- We shelter imperiled plants at our facilities. Mt. Cuba’s garden and greenhouse collections house 19 federally threatened or endangered plant species including green pitcherplant (Sarracenia oreophila) and Virginia meadowsweet (Spiraea virginiana). We hold 13 IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List species in the collections ranked as either extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable.
Moving forward, Mt. Cuba Center aims to build on the conservation intention that has always been at the heart of what we do. In joining the Center for Plant Conservation, we now have more opportunities to engage with and learn from similarly minded institutions.