U.S. Native Magnolia Conservation Action Plans


16 October 2023



Developing comprehensive conservation action plans for species of concern is a priority of the GCCM. Through a participatory process engaging multiple participants, plans are developed which will act as a guide for activities of the GCCM for specific species. These plans identify threats to the species, points of intervention to address those threats, actions and actors to implement the interventions and a process for monitoring the implemented actions.

In March of 2023, as part of the IMLS-funded project ‘Coordinating Consortia to Conserve Living Plant Collections’ (MG-245575-OMS-20), teams from the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and the Botanic Garden of Smith College met to identify conservation action planning priorities stemming from the Conservation Gap Analysis of Native Magnolias of the US and Canada. Two priority species that were identified were Magnolia fraseri (mountain magnolia) and Magnolia ashei (Ashe’s magnolia). This determination was made in light of recent research by the Botanic Garden and Dept. of Biological Sciences at the Smith College which suggest that M. fraseri may be highly sensitive to climate change and could be on the verge of significant changes in its distribution and in situ ecological health. M. ashei is the rarest and most range-restricted Magnolia species in the U.S. and concern has arisen about reproductive success and impacts of hurricanes on persistence in the wild.

M. fraseri is an endemic understory and canopy tree of the southern Appalachian Mountains between northern Georgia and northern West Virginia. Its sparse distribution and preference for elevational niche between about 600m and 1300m of elevation suggest that it may possess the same vulnerabilities that are generally attributed to small range endemic species—specifically, poor capacity to track a moving climate niche. The recent research by the team from Smith College reinforces that concern as it has highlighted elevational recruitment and tree growth trends that suggest the early stages of climate change impact are already occurring. This research contrasts sharply with current conservation assessments for the species, particularly as they pertain to perceived threats and population stability.

M. ashei exists in isolated populations and concern about reproductive success of the species in its range in the Florida panhandle indicates a need for monitoring and action for this species to ensure it will persist in the wild. Previous ecological and genetic study and collection of germplasm of M. ashei laid the foundation for developing next steps and the creation of a conservation plan by partners of the GCCM.

The conservation action plans created for these species identify action items aimed to understand the emerging ecological dynamics of these species, build high value germplasm metacollections, and use these species as a models for effective conservation action in other Global Conservation Consortia efforts. These plans will act as living guidance documents and across the GCCM, there are several botanic institutions that are well positioned to do the work described in these plans which will yield valuable and shareable lessons that serve a broad range of vulnerable species.

Download and read the Conservation Action Plan for Magnolia ashei here.

Download and read the Conservation Action Plan for Magnolia fraseri here.

Members of the GCCM from Atlanta Botanical Garden, the US National Arboretum and the Botanic Garden of Smith College gather to discuss conservation planning and metacollections of native U.S. species