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Botanic Gardens: A Safe Haven for Endangered Begonias
by Mary Fuqua

The 2004 international Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species lists 48 species of Begonia among the 8321 threatened species from the plant kingdom. The level of threat ranges from vulnerable to critically endangered. Three Begonia species are in the latter category:

B. asympeltata (Ecuador), B. pelargoniiflora (Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea), and B. salaziensis (Mauritius). The real number of threatened species is certainly far higher than the numbers cited. The Red List is a work in progress. Although the IUCN has been assessing species for four decades, only the assessment of conifers and cycads is considered complete. Estimates of the actual number of endangered plants range from 3to 10 times the number cited in the 2004 list. Thus by the most conservative multiplier, 150 of our described Begonia species may be threatened or extinct. The number of unidentified and undiscovered species under threat or already extinct is unknown.

Scott Hoover’s unexpected discovery of the supposedly lost B. atricha reminds us that botanic gardens and nurseries can provide a safe haven for threatened plants. For years, plant collectors have deposited their finds at Kew, BG, Montreal and other western botanic gardens. Today, botanic gardens around the world, many of them recently established, are taking responsibility to conserve the species of their own region or nation through coordinated programs of species recovery and preservation. Model programs include the U.S. National Tropical Botanical Garden Conservation Department, which has established a Genetic Safety. Net and a native plant nursery for Hawaiian species. The University of Tokyo Botanical Gardens have undertaken the ex situ preservation of 90 species endemic to the Pacific Island of Bonin, a place where over one fourth of the vascular plant species found on the island are endemics. At San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, the botanic garden of El Charco del In genio is dedicated to the conservation of endangered Mexican species and is building a collection based on cacti and other succulents.

Readers of this Newsletter will want to know who is protecting Begonias. In Indonesia, the Cibodas Botanic Garden is building a living collection of native wild-documented accessions from the forests near the garden, including Begonia. in China, the Lijiang Alpine Botanic Garden in Yunnan Province, together with the Kunming Institute of Botany, have partnered with Kew Botanic Gardens to establish a comprehensive pro gram for biodiversity research and protection in South west China, an area known as the richest zone for flowering plants and biodiversity in, the northern hemi sphere. Collection of Begonia for taxonomic research and preservation is said to have been in progress there for some time.

That the list of gardens harboring Begonia species of their region is short is not welcome news. On the other hand, though the list of safe havens for Begonia is not long, these worldwide initiatives for ex situ preservation and their growing record of success are indeed important news for the protection of Begonia species. As a pan-genus, ex situ preservation in the many countries where they grow wild is a promising strategy for protection of Begonia. The model is up and running. The next step is to extend it to Begonia.

Note:

I welcome information on other gardens with Begonia conservation programs. I also encourage readers to consult the Red List at

www.redlist.org

 


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