Conserving Florida’s native plants

Naples Botanical Garden works in unison with local, state and federal organizations to conserve native flora in the Garden and in native habitat.

These projects are large in scale and breadth, requiring the resources of several groups to analyze data and gather specimens among other duties. Listed below are a few of the conservation efforts to which we are currently dedicated.

Together with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, we are working to save the state endangered Giant Air Plant (Tillandsia utriculata). Once found in abundance, the population of this iconic epiphyte has been decimated by as much as 80% in Fakahatchee Strand by the exotic Mexican bromeliad weevil. Through our conservation efforts, we are preserving the genetic diversity of the Giant Air Plant to save it from local extinction, a fate it could meet within the next two years without our help. We are hopeful that by working together, we will make a difference.

The Garden is also collaborating with several local partners, including Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and the Florida Forest Service’s Caloosahatchee Forestry Center, to preserve the genetic diversity of our native swamp bay (Persea palustris). The once common wetland tree is a member of the Lauraceae family and a relative of the avocado (Persea americana), which are currently under threat from an imported fungus, causing laurel wilt disease. Once infected with the disease, healthy trees begin to quickly wilt and die. The disease has been steadily moving towards the gulf coast and Naples area, threatening to rapidly devastate dense stands of native swamp bay, the common native trees that seem to be the tree’s preferred host.

We are also working with Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and the Florida Forest Service’s Caloosahatchee Forestry Center among other partners to collect seeds from local bay trees. These seeds have been successfully germinated and grown in the Florida Gulf Coast University Harvey Kapnick Education and Research Center at the Garden. These seedlings will be grown in specialized containers that use air to prune the roots. This allows the plants to be grown in containers for several years without developing thick roots that may encircle and strangle the plants. Our hope is that this collection of individual trees can serve as a kind of Noah’s Ark for the species. These plants may one day be used to successfully reintroduce the species to our landscape. By preserving the unique local genetics of these trees, we are ensuring the survival of the species and others that rely on it for future generations.