Betty Ford gardens helps reintroduce rare plant
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens has partnered with the Bureau of Land Management to grow and reintroduce one of the rarest plants in North America — the Penstemon debilis — in the Roan Plateau area 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.
“The (Betty Ford Alpine) Gardens is the only nonprofit in the valley whose scientific research impacts strategies for plant conservation,” said gardens director Nicola Ripley.
In 2004, the gardens became involved with the BLM’s conservation efforts and began to participate in a global initiative with other botanical gardens to diminish the decline of rare and endangered plants and to ensure healthy biodiversity for our planet.
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 already had vanished by the end of the 20th century with another 600 to 700 in imminent jeopardy.
Plant species are endangered because of an increasing human population and the resulting environmental effects, 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 gardens’ staff will monitor and report on the health of the new plants for years to come.
Creating New Life
In August, the gardens’ staff traveled to specific sites in the Central Rocky Mountain Region to collect the Penstemon debilis seeds.
In October, the seeds were divided into two groups. The first group of seeds were sown in flats and placed in cold frames outside, where they will undergo a natural stratification until spring.
The second group 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 Nick Courtens, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens head gardener.
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