Alpine Gardens help reintroduce rare plant species | VailDaily.com

Alpine Gardens help reintroduce rare plant species

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Staff members from the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail train with Bureau of Land Management botanists near Leadville.

VAIL — Betty Ford Alpine Gardens has partnered with Bureau of Land Management to grow and reintroduce one of the rarest plants in North America — the Penstemon debilis — onto the Roan Plateau near Rifle. This unique species of penstemon, also known as Parachute penstemon, is endemic to the Central Rocky Mountain region where it grows above the Colorado River on loose shale cliffs.

CONSERVATION EFFORTS

"The Gardens is the only nonprofit in the valley whose scientific research impacts strategies for plant conservation," said Nicola Ripley, director of the Alpine Gardens.

In 2004, the gardens became actively involved with the Bureau of Land Management's conservation efforts and participated in a global initiative of botanical gardens to diminish the decline of rare and endangered plants and ensure a healthy biodiversity for our planet.

SPECIES OF PLANTS

Botanists have identified more than 400,000 species of plants worldwide. However, approximately 34,000 are currently threatened; two-thirds of the world's plant species are in danger of extinction during the course of the 21st century; and of the 20,000 known plant species in the United States, more than 200 had already vanished by the end of the 20th century with another 600 to 700 in imminent jeopardy.

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Plant species are in jeopardy because of an increasing human population and its effect on our environment, including deforestation, habitat loss, the spread of invasive species and agricultural expansion.

The Penstemon debilis project will help populate this endangered species and document the success of several propagation techniques. The Alpine Gardens' staff will monitor and report on the health of the new plants for years to come.

IN THE NAME OF RESEARCH

In August, staff of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens traveled to specific sites in the Central Rocky Mountain region to collect the Penstemon debilis seed. In October, the seeds were divided into two groups. The first group was sown in flats and placed in outside, cold frames where they will undergo a natural stratification until spring. The second group of seeds is being stratified using an indoor, walk-in cooler where they will remain until mid-January. After eight weeks in the cooler, the seeds will be placed in a heated greenhouse where they will be tested for germination and grown in larger pots.

"Our research will help determine the best way in which to grow Penstemon debilis," said Betty Ford Alpine Gardens head gardener Nick Courtens.

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