Plant Conservation and Protection

Rare & Endangered Species

Rare & Endangered Species

locoweed

With nearly 1200 acres of land, the Arboretum is dedicated to conservation, the protection of plants, and deeper public understanding of the value, beauty and critical nature of plants in their lives. While most public gardens have conservation efforts, very few gardens are widely known as centers of research and/or conservation.

The Arboretum is a proud partner with the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), an organization founded in 1984 that seeks to prevent the extinction of US native plants. As a partner in the CPC, the Arboretum is responsible for leading conservation efforts for seven species, which include an orchid (Platanthera praeclara, western prairie fringed orchid), a Minnesota endemic (Erythronium propullans, dwarf trout lily) and a Wisconsin endemic (Oxytropis campestris var. chartaceae, Fassett’s locoweed).

The work and research for this program involves creating a long-term genetically diverse seed bank of each species as well as developing an understanding of how best to propagate and out-plant each species. The long-term goal of this program is to enable restoration work to be able to be performed with each species with the ultimate objective being successful restoration or preservation in situ. In addition, considering the changing climate, this work will help to preserve the genetic diversity necessary for each species to be able to adapt to climate changes, and will also enhance knowledge regarding how to successfully introduce these plants back into a natural or restored landscape.

The Arboretum focuses on “Ex Situ” conservation, which is the process of protecting an endangered plant outside of its natural habitat, In Situ, or "on site" conservation, preserving a species in its natural habitat, is the highest priority for species conservation, and is found to be the most efficient way of conserving biodiversity because it can preserve not just the species but the entire community and all of the ecosystem processes that support all of the members of the community. While in situ conservation efforts continue to set aside healthy landscapes, these landscapes are being affected, directly and indirectly by human activity, through climate change, water tables, irrigation, ever-encroaching developments, etc. Ex situ conservation can be thought of as an insurance policy in some regards, by backing up the genetics of endangered species we can ensure that if, or when, a species is lost in its natural landscape it can be replaced. 

The Arboretum’s regional leadership for endangered species work has resulted in partnerships with both the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources to assist in rescues of endangered species populations that have been under immediate threat.

Endangered Species at the Arboretum

Endangered Species at the Arboretum

jacobs ladder

While the majority of the Arboretum's endangered species are under watch and conservation at the Horticultural Reserach Center (HRC), there is one species open to visitors. Western Jacob's Ladder, or Polemonium occidentale ssp. lacustre, is a native perennial that is closely related to a subspecies of the Rocky Mountains, from which is gets its common name of Western Jacob's Ladder. The species requires wet swamps, primarily associated with cedar and alder. There are only six known populations of Jacob's Ladder, four of which are in Minnesota, and the remaining two in Wisconsin. 

Native Orchids Program

Native Orchids Program

orchid

The Native Orchid Conservation Program at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum focuses specifically on conservation of native orchid species of the Minnesota region. There are roughly 200 species of orchids native to the continental United States and Minnesota has nearly a quarter of those species. With 10 of Minnesota’s 48 native orchid species already listed on Minnesota's List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species, it is imperative to invest in the long-term preservation of this group of plants that can be found in every terrestrial ecosystem type in the state. Orchids can be found throughout Minnesota in native forest, wetlands, and prairie.

Orchid biology is incredibly complex, with each species often requiring specific fungi to be present in the soil for them to grow and persist, as well as pollinator species to reproduce. Seeds are among the smallest in the plant kingdom, often about the size of this comma, or this period. At this size there is very little room for error in germination. Without the nutrient stores that larger seeds have, orchid seeds may not survive if they land in less-than-ideal locations. Given these reasons, orchids are often among the most fragile members of an ecosystem. This makes them useful as a kind of bellwether of ecosystem health but also means that they are tricky to restore to landscape once lost, even the common ones.

The Arboretum is a member of the North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC), and the Native Orchid Conservation Program is participating in three major collaborations. NAOCC, headquartered at the Smithsonian, is a partnership among botanic gardens, universities, and non profits around the country to preserve North American orchid species. As a core member of the Midwest group of NAOCC the NOCP's main goal is to create seed banks and the ability to restore populations for all of Minnesota's native orchid species. The Arboretum is also collaborating with researchers at Texas Tech on identification of mycorrhizal associates of orchids, since the Arboretum does not have the capacity for this kind of morphological and genetic work with fungi. Orchid root samples are collected and sent out to Texas Tech to create a catalog of fungi that will be extremely useful in growing and out-planting, and potentially rescuing, our native orchid species. Root samples are also sent to the Smitsonian Environmental Research Center for isolation and banking/propagation of mycorrhizal associates, potentially to be used in future restoration work with our native orchids.

Finally, NOCP works with the Central Botanic Garden in Belarus, focusing on research based on native and listed species in common between Belarus and Minnesota, as well as an orchid (Epipactis helleborine) which, while invasive in Minnesota, is native in Belarus. The goal of this collaborative is to undertake a ground-breaking study of orchid ecology and how universal or regional fungal associates might be. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is committed to a nationwide effort to preserve and educate about these lovely and important species.

Orchids at the Arboretum

Orchids at the Arboretum

orchid

If you've been to Minnesota in the summer, consider yourself a Minnesotan, or just have a knack for state emblems, you probably know about our State Flower, the Showy Lady's Slipper (also called the Pink and White Lady's Slipper). It's scientific name is Cypripedium reginae. Reginae is Latin for "queen", a fitting tribute to this orchid, with its white petals and sepals that spread out from its pink, pouch-like labellum. These orchids typically bloom in June and July, requiring moist soil and sunlight.  The Showy Lady's Slipper, our tallest native orchid, is widely distributed throughout eastern and central North America in places including wet, dry, sunny, and shady habitats.  Though they have finished blooming at the arboretum, the Slipper can be found at the southwest end of the bog walk and in the wildflower garden. 

Slow-growing, this clonal orchid may take over 15 years to produce its first flower. But once it blooms, a single plant may have over 200 flowering stems. White-tailed deer readily eat this plant. Illegal collecting, loss of habitat and poor water quality (pollution) have also caused declines in wild populations. The Showy Lady's Slipper has fine hairs that may irritate skin and cause a rash similar to poison ivy. 

Typically blooming early in July, the Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) is found along the Green Heron Boardwalk. This orchid, derived from eastern Canada to the east-central and northeastern United States is also a plant of wet habitats such as bogs, flatwoods, swamps, or sedge meadows. The epithet "psycodes" relates to being butterfly-like, alluding to the shape of the flowers. 

 

Dwarf Trout Lillies

Dwarf Trout Lillies

lily

Erythronium propullans, also known as the Dwarf Trout Lily, is one of the Arboretum’s spring ephemerals that you'll find in the Wildflower and Woodland Gardens. These are plants that come out in deciduous woodlands in Minnesota early in the spring before the maples and other canopy trees can leaf out. The first colonies were transplanted back in 1960, prior to listing. Today, the Arboretum is home to about 21 colonies, most of which are doing very well and better than their original populations. Typically each plant's single flower will only really be active for a couple of days and the whole plant is above ground for just a few weeks.

Center for Plant Concervation

Center for Plant Concervation

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is the regional leader in plant conservation and a proud partner organization in The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), that includes 39 U.S.-based botanic gardens all tasked with preserving North America’s most endangered plant species.

For more information on the CPC or the full listing of partnered organizations, please visit the Center for Plant Conservation Website

About

Plant conservation at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum dates back to its horticultural routes in 1958, and founding director Leon Snyder, PhD. As a horticultural expert, Snyder routinely studied, planted, led and monitored new plantings, native plants, and often plant species in the landscape that are now the Arboretum and the Horticultural Research Center. Certain trees and plants that Snyder introduced at the Arboretum still thrive more than six decades later.

In 2011, the Arboretum joined the Center for Plant Conservation, a non-profit network of institutions dedicated to conserving and restoring American’s native plants. Through this network, scientists work in research, restoration, technical assistance, education and advocacy on behalf of rare and endangered plant species.

Important partners such as the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club have been instrumental in sponsoring research and preservation of species, such as the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily.

In 2013, the Arboretum’s Plant Conservation Program dedicated an important program of endangered species research, conservation and restoration. The program’s two main areas of focus are endangered species of the upper Midwest and native orchids of Minnesota. The Arboretum seeks to conserve individual species as well as perform research to both understand the species worked with and to be able to propagate and restore each species to a natural landscape (or to the Arboretum grounds). Many of the plants handled at the Arboretum are not easily seen in their natural habitats, but by bringing them to the Arboretum visitors are given the chance to see some of these rare treasures while also educating about the need for increased conservation efforts.

The program’s primary focus is on work with endangered species that tend to be either federally or state listed. Another specialized focus of this program is work to preserve and protect Minnesota’s 48 native orchid species.