The potential role of public gardens as sentinels of plant invasion
Public gardens can help prevent detrimental effects of plant invasions by collecting and sharing data on taxa spreading from cultivation early in the invasion process, thereby acting as sentinels of plant invasion. Existing initiatives have called for public gardens to adopt measures preventing plant invasion, but it is unclear what actions individual gardens are implementing, as there is no formal mechanism for communicating their progress. This study used internal lists of escaping taxa from seven public gardens in the Midwestern United States and Canada to demonstrate how public gardens can collectively contribute data that is critical to assessing potential invasiveness. It also reveals methodological differences in how gardens develop their lists of escaping plants, leading to recommendations for standardization. Data pooled across gardens yielded 769 species spreading from cultivation at one or more gardens. Eight woody species were listed by all gardens despite not consistently being recognized as invasive by states and provinces containing the gardens; some species recorded by multiple gardens did not appear on any invasive lists. While it may be premature to call taxa escaping from cultivation at a few public gardens “invasive” or even “potentially invasive”, these plants should be monitored and evaluated with this information shared to facilitate stronger conclusions about risk. Thus, public gardens have a unique expertise in assisting invasive plant efforts as sentinels, particularly if challenges related to methodological inconsistencies and data sharing are suitably addressed, which is herein recommended through the adoption of a set of standardized guidelines.