As a follow up to the launch of the Global Conservation Consortium (GCC) for Cycads US Working Group earlier this year, Steering Committee members Vanessa Handley (Montgomery Botanical Center) and Tim Gregory (Wild Cycad Conservancy) were hosted for site visits by consortium participants across Southern California. These included all regional botanical gardens within the US Working Group – Ganna Walska Lotusland, Huntington Botanical Gardens, San Diego Botanic Garden, San Diego Zoo, and San Diego Zoo Safari Park – along with several private gardens and nurseries.
The goal for this regional tour was to stimulate interest in development of assurance colonies (ACs) for priority cycad taxa. These ACs are envisioned as genetically representative breeding populations for cycad species that are currently assessed as critically endangered (CR) or functionally extinct in the wild (EW). The preliminary focus is on establishing ACs for Enchephalartos given the high number of CR and EW species in this genus. The aforementioned gardens are already stewarding small numbers of these imperiled taxa but the goal is to augment these holdings and create nodes of species stewardship and allied conservation action – i.e. production of seed for reintroduction efforts in countries of origin.
Development of robust ACs across the consortium is a long-term objective and one that will require diverse points of domestic and international collaboration. To this end, the GCC for Cycads is poised to help foster connections and to facilitate exchange between gardens and, as feasible, acquisition from private collections. The latter are currently a significant reservoir of germplasm for many priority taxa.
Fortunately, domestic distribution of cycad pollen and seed is already a common practice across the US Working Group. There is, however, a need for targeted exchange of offsets to back-up holdings of highest conservation value and there is much enthusiasm for enhanced exchange across the network. A case in point is a recent distribution of cycads by University of California Botanical Garden (a GCC for Cycads partner garden in Northern California) to institutions in Southern California. The plants were primarily mature, potted specimens that had not been integrated within in-ground collections due to climactic and space constraints. They were gratefully received by peer gardens and most have now been installed within planting beds where they will thrive for decades to come. This scenario speaks to the well-established spirit of collaboration across participating gardens, an ethos that will undoubtedly fuel meaningful conservation action within the Global Conservation Consortium for Cycads .
By Vanessa Handley.