Researching the Origins of Flowering Plants
Amborella trichopoda grows in New Caledonia, an archipelago halfway between Australia and Fiji. In 2005, Ron Determann, Garden Conservation Director, visited New Caledonia and returned with Amborella seeds. New Caledonia plants are tricky to grow and keep alive, but under the care of Garden horticulturalists, those original plants thrived, flowered and produced seed. Today several generations of Amborella from those original seeds live at the Garden.
By using living plant material provided by the Garden, scientists with the Amborella Genome Project have completed a map of the Amborella genome. DNA analysis has shown that when placing all flowering plants (angiosperms) on an evolutionary tree, Amborella trichopoda is on the lowest branch. This means that Amborellaceae is the oldest known angiosperm family with an extant (still living) member. Being such an "early brancher" (or basal angiosperm) means that the Amborella's genome map could provide a better understanding of flowering plant evolution. The map provides a view into the genetic toolbox of flowering plants at an early stage in their evolution.
The Garden has an extensive collection of plants from New Caledonia thanks in part to New Caledonia's IRD (L'Institut de recherche pour le développement). These plants are maintained as an ex situ (off-site) conservation collection which provides researchers and conservationists with vital resources.
The Garden has teamed with North Carolina conservationists in Uganda in an effort to preserve an endangered cycad. Paul Blackmore, Garden Conservatory Manager, traveled with representatives of the North Carolina Zoo to the TOORO Botanic Garden in Uganda on the mission to preserve the endangered cycad.
Native only to Uganda, Encephalartos whitelockii is found on the western side of the country along the Mpanga River Fall. This evergreen grows on particularly rocky slopes with abundant grasses amongst sparse woodland, an environment where rapid and frequent fires destroy the plant’s long, spiny foliage and threaten its distribution. The biggest threat for E. whitelockii , however, is the eminent construction of a dam, which would flood the population residing along the Mpanga River Falls.
Botanical gardens around the world are working to save the germplasm of Encepahalrtos whitelockii, and Blackmore is working with the North Carolina Zoo to assess the damage to this plant. Meanwhile, populations of the cycad have been distributed throughout Uganda in conservation efforts.
What Can You Do?
You can make an impact on Conservation in many ways:
- Get involved in local and global conservation efforts.
- Visit the Garden often to help us to continue working towards global conservation goals.
- Spread the word about conservation projects.
- Support the Garden and other organizations that research and protect endangered plants.