You are here

Biodiversity And Conservation


Conservation of plants, plant communities, associated habitats and ecosystems is a guiding principle for sustainability in gardens. An overall objective public gardens share is to sustain a healthy, biodiverse world where we can continue to enjoy the essential benefits of plants that support sustainable livelihoods, health and our well-being.

As public gardens are making plant and habitat conservation core to their missions and strategies, there is an impetus to integrate plant conservation and biodiversity issues into institution’s leadership, budget, policies, activities, and programs. Effective conservation efforts will depend upon the delivery of national, regional and local responses through collaboration among gardens and other leading institutions in plant research and expertise. It is essential that public garden programs and displays raise awareness/educate guests on biodiversity, implement and demonstrate plant conservation strategies, document the status of biodiversity and threats to it, and model sustainable gardening and landscaping methods.


UN Sustainable Development Goal 15: 

The global community is committed to conserving biodiversity. Two international agreements aim at sharing the benefits from using genetic resources in a fair and equitable way. As of April 2017, 144 countries ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and 96 countries ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization.


"Your Garden is a Conservation Garden! Gardens practice conservation efforts, but few gardens realize how their efforts are relevant to global plant conservation."       

~Casey Sclar, American Public Gardens Association


“ a professional community, botanic gardens possess a unique skill set that encompasses finding, identifying, collecting, conserving and growing plant diversity across the taxonomic spectrum.”

~R. Mounce et al. Nature Plants 


Goal 1: Integrate the plant conservation ethic with all internal and external operations, communicating the importance of plants and conservation to garden staff, visitors, funders, partners, researchers, and other stakeholders.

Goal 2: Build ex situ conservation capacity so that collections are built, managed, and used to support plant conservation management goals at your institution.

Goal 3: Build in situ conservation capacity through management of natural areas, reintroduction of species, restoration of wild areas, planting and documentation of regionally native plants.

Goal 4: Address plant conservation as a main theme of education and training programs offered by your garden, including opportunities to engage in the prevention, reporting, and control of invasive species.

Goal 5: Support research programs at your institution and regional collaborations including taxonomy, as well as other basic and applied research topics.


The BIODIVERSITY AND CONSERVATION Attribute of the Public Gardens Sustainability Index and Benchmarking platforms have been intentionally aligned with North American Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

Enter your garden's data in the Plant Conservation & Biodiversity Benchmarking to provide your garden’s leadership and stakeholders with quantifiable statements on plant conservation and biodiversity accomplishments and efforts. This platform will help your garden answer the following questions:

  • What is my garden doing for plant conservation, and how does it support the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation/North American Strategy for Plant Conservation?

  • How do I compare with peers in my region, budget size, country, and continent?

  • Where is conservation capacity missing in my garden, region, country, and continent?

  • Which targets are within reach and which require long term planning to increase our plant conservation and biodiversity capacity?


Working together, Botanic Gardens Conservation International US, The Center for plant Conservation, The Plant Conservation Alliance-Non-Federal Cooperators Committee and the American Public Gardens Association have extensively revised and published the 2016-2020 North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation.


North American Strategy for Plant Conservation:


Updated Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011-2020

Without plants, there is no life. The functioning of the planet, and our survival, depends upon plants. The Strategy seeks to halt the continuing loss of plant diversity. Our vision is of a positive, sustainable future where human activities support the diversity of plant life (including the endurance of plant genetic diversity, survival of plant species and communities and their associated habitats and ecological associations), and where in turn the diversity of plants support and improve our livelihoods and well-being.

Global Strategy for Plant Conservation:



1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline 

2. Identify Stakeholders 

3. Data Collection/Resources

4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action 

5. Evaluate and Maintain Success 

6. Report, Communicate, Educate

7. Resources and Case Studies 




1.  Investigate and Establish a Baseline


The following questions should be considered as part of an initial self-audit. Key leadership staff including science/research, education, natural lands, horticulture, and conservation professionals will ideally be part of this initial conversation and organizational self-reflection. If you do not know the answers to some questions, simply note that you don’t have metrics in place.


Use the Conservation and Biodiversity Self-audit worksheet for the self-audit and use it to further track your planning decisions (see Develop and Implement a Plan of Action section below).


LEADERSHIP, GOVERNANCE, ADVOCACY                                                                                                                                                                                                          

  • Does the garden share a holistic commitment to plant conservation from mission statements, strategic plans, board and leadership engagement all the way to internal and external communications?
  • Does the garden employ staff with conservation expertise, such as conservation biology, plant ecology, or environmental science?
  • Has the garden adopted relevant national strategies such as those endorsed by professional horticulture and conservation organizations (e. g., the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation)?
  • Does the garden follow a code of conduct or policy to guide legal and ethical plant conservation practices?
  • Does the garden collaborate with other gardens, organizations or agencies to better understand and document plant diversity including documentation of various categories: native, agricultural, horticultural, and medicinal plants?
  • Does the garden collaborate with other gardens, organizations or agencies on collective plant diversity and conservation efforts?
  • Does the garden maintain landscape sustainability, such as through selecting plants value based on resilience, protection, and where it grows best in garden design?




  • Does the garden have a plan and/or policy in place for quantitative monitoring, management, and replacement of aggressive/invasive species?
  • Does the garden own and manage natural lands? If so, is conservation work done there?
  • Does the garden lead, participate in, or track off-site restoration efforts?
  • Does the garden support recovery actions for native North American species?
  • Does the garden support recovery actions for non-North American species, through off-site in-situ conservation efforts?




  • Does the garden have a plant collections policy with plant conservation as a component?
  • Does the garden make a consistent practice of taxonomic verification of plants of conservation concern?
  • Does the garden track threat ranks via plant records for living collections (global, national, regional)?
  • Does the garden use greenhouse, nursery, herbarium, arboretum, at least in part, to support plant conservation activities?
  • Does the garden conduct/contribute to conservation gene-banking (seed banking, in vitro, cryo, tissue culture)?
  • Does the garden contribute expertise in ex situ culture of plants, e.g., through propagation for restoration and gene banking?




  • Does garden educational programming of all types (school based, adult education, outreach) include curriculum on the following conservation themes?
    • Gene banking/ex situ conservation science
    • Habitat restoration and natural lands management
    • Awareness, adaptation, and mitigation principles regarding climate change and invasive species
    • Food systems and security, cultural practices, and crop diversity
    • Rare, endangered or threatened plants
    • Ecological landscape sustainability
  • Are education opportunities on the above conservation themes offered/presented to staff/volunteers?
  • Does the garden demonstrate practices and promote ecological gardening principles (pollinators, ecosystem services)?
  • Does the garden communicate research/science work to the general public through industry newsletters, popular science media outlets, garden events, etc..?
  • Does the garden integrate conservation goals with signs and plant labels, the garden website, visitor orientation and interpretation, and education programs?
  • Does the garden engage young people on a path to professional science and conservation careers?
  • Does the garden train professional staff and volunteers on conservation related skills such as propagation and cultivation of threatened species?




  • Does the garden participate in the prioritization of rare, endangered or threatened plants?
  • Does the garden participate in reporting and compiling of existing comprehensive plant lists related to various categories of plant diversity?
  • Does the garden support conservation biology research that utilizes its expertise and facilities?
  • Does the garden support conservation research that collaborates with scientists in regional or global conservation organizations and academic institutions on conservation research they identify as high priority?


2. Identify Stakeholders


“ When you think about making a case for all of these interconnected issues for plant conservation and environmental sustainability, social responsibility, financial sustainability, climate change, all these things, the best way to handle a large interconnected problem is a well thought through planning process. You get the right people together with the right help from the outside in the right kind of environment and really work the problems. You will be forever putting out brush fires if you don't.”

~Head of Science, Royal Botanical Gardens, Ontario


“The making of a great garden was once strongly related to its support of plant exploration for introduction of species from around the world. The biodiversity crisis has changed the measure of a great garden toward conservation of species rather than introduction of species.”                                                                                                                                  

~Professor of Botany and Environmental Studies, Green Mountain College




Meeting Conservation and Biodiversity goals will require gardens to make a leadership commitment that ranges from board recruitment to staff hiring and training practices. In addressing your garden’s conservation baseline, identify internal stakeholders with these characteristics:

  • Who has been involved with organizational strategic planning and has an interest in conservation/biodiversity initiatives?
  • Who is in a high level financial decision making role?
  • Who has scientific expertise in plant conservation?
  • Who has collections and plant records expertise?
  • Who has a background in conservation biology,  plant ecology, or environmental science even if not in a science department?
  • Who would help coordinate projects across departments?
  • Who already has existing relationships with external conservation organizations?
  • Who is a champion for plant conservation no matter where they are on the organizational chart?




Relationships with external partners can build capacity for reaching conservation goals by leveraging existing assets. Small gardens may discover opportunities to collaborate in cutting edge science and work with restoration studies or methods. Many garden’s assets include good propagation techniques and record keeping, allowing for collaborations with states trying to reestablish plant populations. When the garden takes stock of potential partner networks, more collective impacts become possible.

The garden may find external stakeholders in a number of networks:

-Local, state, and national government agencies

-Colleges and Universities

-Regional organizations interested  in land use and land planning

-Nonprofit conservation groups

-Regulatory or State Heritage programs

-Regional garden clubs, birdwatchers, nature and hiking groups concerned with environmental issues


3. Data Collection/Resources


In order to prepare for action planning, you may wish to supplement the baseline audit you just completed by gathering some additional data or collecting more information about potential regional partners. If the self-audit revealed different questions than those below, pursue those instead. The purpose of this exercise is to provide enough input to your decision-making process to yield the greatest collective impact garden-wide, community/region-wide, as well as globally.




Describe or map how your hectares/acreage reflect different kinds of habitat stewardship:

  • Proportion of the landscape that is display garden, natural areas
  • Ecoregions within management areas
  • Amount and types of plant species focused on for reintroduction, invasives removal, monitoring, restoration/management
  • Efforts aimed at addressing climate change, impacts, and adaptation on in situ plant populations
  • Long term monitoring of species and areas affected by in situ efforts
  • Does your garden have staff and volunteer capacity to address habitat conservation goals?




Do current practices yield records such as:

  • Percent of living accessions that are wild origin
  • Percent of taxa in living collection that are of conservation concern (threatened)
  • Documentation and curation of potential genetic diversity and/or analyze genetic diversity

Are conservation priorities articulated in the following ways?: 

  • Prioritization among and within collections, including living collection policy documents
  • Staff participate with partners in prioritizing rare endangered and threatened species, making sure that there is a list of reference
  • The garden has current lists of high priority species
  • Lists include inventory of crop wild relatives or medicinal plants (prioritized taxa related to a broad range of important species)?




  • Briefly map some of the following practices to identify whether garden communication and education is holistic in addressing conservation. Are practices regularly spanning departments/personnel?
  • Where/how does the garden demonstrate practices and promote:
    • Ecological gardening principles (pollinators, ecosystem services) and sustainability
    • Food systems and security, cultural practices, and crop diversity
    • Gene banking/ex situ conservation science
    • Habitat restoration and natural lands management
    • Awareness, adaptation, and mitigation principles regarding climate change and invasive species
    • Rare, endangered or threatened plants
    • Conservation goals with signs and plant labels, the garden website, visitor orientation and interpretation, and education programs
    • Young people on a path to professional science and conservation careers




Describe how the garden supports the following efforts:

-Floristics Research
-Threat assessment of plant species in taxonomic groups
-Research in plant biology, ecology, and conservation genetics
-Test/document seed storage behavior
-Test/document propagation protocols
-Study/document economically valuable plants
-Documenting/preserving cultural and indigenous knowledge and practices
-Citizen Science supported research
-Reporting/compiling national and North American plant lists related to plant diversity (native, agricultural, horticultural, and medicinal, including herbaria contributions)


4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action


“I see gardens as set in an ecological and sustainability frame implicitly and by definition. We are at the place where you can create a direct interface of people with that natural world, therefore there's a fundamental relationship that's already implied by the existence of a garden and it follows that gardens have a role both on site and locally in their own communities but also in terms of that larger picture.”

~Director Emeritus, North Carolina Botanical Garden


Plant conservation is extremely broad. It can be habitat level or ecosystem level. It can also be restoration ecology. The diversity of topics that all fall under the realm of plant conservation, even as defined in the North American strategy, means that there are a large number of potential stakeholders if you are willing to seek them out. From habitat conservation, to endangered species, to doing something in the social arena, your garden should be able to judge your contribution to conservation goals that have been expressed nationally or internationally. When developing action plans, you may choose to work across all the categories presented here in some way; In situ conservation capacity, external operations/ex situ conservation capacity/research, education and training. Your garden may have the capacity to address multiple critical endangered species, create momentum and build new programs. Even being able to do this, a garden should still consider how partnerships can be leveraged to also build capacity.




Plant conservation and biodiversity should begin with discussions about what is happening at the highest planning level. The master planning or strategic planning process is an excellent place to start determining which of your garden’s larger goals will ultimately become actions. To include conservation priority setting at the highest level of planning may mean engaging new expertise, as board members, or new staff hires. A conservation biologist or someone with a background in conservation biology, plant ecology, or environmental science can help you set priorities. Long term planning may require you to look outside your current staff or down the road to put a priority on hiring.


For many gardens, financial investment is allocated first to business operations, visitors, tourism, the things that gardens must do to stay afloat. If the master planning process allocates all planning time to garden design, parking, or buildings and places conservation work as a side project, it will never become lodged in the institutional thinking at the highest level. If you have space for a pollinator garden or seed bank or a live plant gene bank, or if you have land that is set aside as a nature reserve, all of those things are questions for the highest level of institutional master planning.




A garden with a smaller operating budget or at an early stage of development can benefit from a network of collaboration and partnership even if they can only take a small role at the time. A garden with a larger budget or a garden with access to support funding, can take responsibility for a larger share of the job in seed banking or whatever the particular goal is. The process of networking and collaborating through partnerships is the best way to accomplish big goals, for example reaching a percentage of endangered species in a seed bank. Working with the right partners will help to define what your best, or your highest contribution could be towards that goal.

To begin, find out who is taking actions on conservation and biodiversity issues in your area and who would make natural partnerships with you. Invite them into be part of garden discussions and share what they are doing and what the garden could do to support those initiatives. Find your garden’s unique role and how that might vary with what other people are already doing around you. Your garden may have a role to play in propagating plants or find a niche by adopting a population identified by a state endangered species committee. Your garden may find urgency in global strategies, changing the attitudes of the public, monitoring species, understanding their biology, identifying threats and conserving them. 




Your garden’s decision-making process will ideally yield the greatest possible impact, with the closest alignment to your garden’s mission and vision. In the most simplistic terms, your garden should plan to make a significant investment in some way, to make change to people’s thoughts on conservation, and make a change in terms of plants. Your results should be a measurable change in each of those areas.


If you have not yet completed the Conservation and Biodiversity Self-audit worksheet, this tool can assist your team in making short and long range decisions.


For each area of the self-audit, your team should look for multiple “YES” answers to:

  • Does the garden have the capacity to take this action?
  • Does the garden have the intention to take this action?
  • Is this an area of great potential for impact? 
  • Does the garden have potential partners or assets available to take this action?

If you find “hot spots” where capacity and intention align in multiple topic areas, you have the an outline for action planning conversations.


5. Evaluate/Revise/Monitor and Maintain Success


Evaluate and monitor your garden’s progress by using the Conservation and Biodiversity Benchmarking platform (coming in early 2018), a joint project of the American Public Gardens Association and Botanical Gardens Conservation International. 

The platform allows annual input of data as well as the option to download direct reports that show how your garden stacks up against your peers or track internal goals as you share data with board and other stakeholders.

If you are a garden located anywhere in Canada, the United States, or Mexico, you need not be an organizational member to participate.




Conservation and Biodiversity metrics should be tracked through annual reporting. Keeping regular evaluation practices in place throughout the year for some projects will support benchmarking (above) when the platform is open for input.

The garden (and collaborators) should determine how they will design goals and measure success from the beginning of each project. A garden may decide to use vision or mission language in determining success and must ultimately decide how far into surrounding ecosystems the garden perceives a sphere of responsibility.  

How to measure and describe success may vary as metrics may be project dependent, such as tracking off-site restoration efforts or conservation programs that are taxa specific. When tracking invasives, identify the plant(s) and the magnitude of the problem. If tracking natives, define the percentage of the living collection, number of species, or percentage cover. Percentages should be used when tracking rare, endangered or threatened plants.

Qualitative methods are also valuable to measure success. In measuring conservation attitude and behavior change, long term tracking of interview subjects is the most effective. Follow how messaging consistency, using conservation as an interpretive thread is impacting community members’ attitudes and ideas about conservation. Use regional demographics in measuring engagement success (See Engagement, Outreach and Education).

It is important to share evaluation data and reports with all collaborators and partners. Gardens should contribute evaluation time to assess collaborative conservation projects.



6. Report Communicate and Educate


“I don’t see elephants a lot in my daily life. Even mountain lions or bobcats that live in California, I don’t see them a lot. Plants are everywhere. Botanic gardens seem to me to be really well positioned to be talking about climate change. We’ve been finding out from the phenology project here that the seasons are getting compressed. And some things are flowering later. The leaves are falling off sooner. I think that’s a good place to reach people on climate change.”

~Director of Education, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden


In order for a garden to fully address communication and education around Conservation and Biodiversity, the approach must be holistic. The idea is that every stakeholder at the garden supports and receives conservation messaging and in turn also works to promote it. There are potential champions at all levels of leadership. All of the people involved in the garden’s work, the language of interpretation and marketing, should follow consistent messaging– with conservation as an interpretive thread.

To motivate employees, volunteers, board members, and visitors to take action in supporting biodiversity, provide not only facts, and interactive options, but participatory experiences.


Here are some examples:


Updated websites and signage with conservation language:

UBC Interpretive Signage


Offering citizen science meetups:

Citizen Science at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden


Promote biodiversity as a means to building resilience/capacity to combat the impacts of climate change:

Missouri Botanical Garden Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development


Advocacy, such as sharing the Plant Conservation Alliance “Botany Bill” or pollinator related initiatives: 



Host bio-blitzes


Provide training on plant ecology and elucidate connections between plants and other organisms, including pollinators, mycorrhizae, herbivores, and diseases, and how plants and other organisms co-evolve:

Conservation & Ecology Denver Botanic Gardens


Provide workshops on the ecology of species invasion:

Invasion Biology: Paths to Conservation and Restoration Success


Share garden initiatives to prevent the spread of invasive species:

Plant Protection Program Store


Address food systems and security, cultural practices, and crop diversity:

Agriculture and the Future of Food - The Role of Botanic Gardens


Demonstrate practices and promote ecological gardening principals (pollinators, ecosystem services):

National Pollinator Garden Network


Engage young people on a path to professional science and conservation careers (targeting critical age groups, middle school audiences, etc.):

Seed Your Future

Global Youth Institute

The Fairchild Challenge and Partnership with NASA

UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day

Schoolyard Gardens Conference

Explainer Program


Demonstrate carbon storage through plant conservation as a way to offset pollution and other adverse impacts:

Advice to Gardeners from a Climate Change Expert Cornell Botanic Gardens



 7. Resources and Case Studies


Ex situ conservation of plant diversity in the world’s botanic gardens


The Red List of US Oaks report details for the first time the distributions, population trends, and threats facing all 91 native oak species in the U.S. using the IUCN Red List threat assessment platform, including updated versions of previously published assessments. The publication serves as a baseline for our current understanding of the state of the country’s oak trees and an authoritative guide for future conservation action.



Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing by Doug McKenzie-Mohr

The Conscientious Gardener Cultivating a Garden Ethic by Sarah Reichard



The Public Gardens Sustainability Index Working Group is made up of diverse field-wide professionals. Does your expertise lie within an Attribute area? Help us build content for Principles and Best Practices. Have success stories? Let us collect your Case Studies. Contact Sarah Beck:

Case Study 

New England Wildflower Society

This two-year project is the first large-scale, coordinated seed banking effort in the eastern United States, and is part of the $360 million in federal Hurricane Sandy mitigation funding the Department of the Interior is using to restore and rebuild national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other federal assets on the Atlantic coast, and to increase the capacity of coastal habitats and infrastructure to withstand storms.

The Society and its partners, North Carolina Botanical Garden and Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation), will provide seed from native, locally adapted plants for restoration of sub-tidal habitats and dunes, wetlands, salt marshes, near-coastal freshwater habitats, coastal forests, and inland rivers and streams. Much of the vegetation in these habitats was inundated by salt water, smothered in sand, or washed out to sea during Hurricane Sandy.

Managers of national wildlife refuges and parks are eager to have the native plant material. One of the first requests came from the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge complex, including the John H. Chafee NWR in Narragansett and Sachuest Point NWR in Middletown. These refuges alone need seed to produce 14,000 plants for their restoration projects.

Until now, restoration projects in the eastern United States have had to rely primarily on plant material from other parts of the country. This initiative will supply seeds sustainably collected from the local area. Plants native to a particular ecoregion are best adapted to the soil and climate, and they act as hosts for the local insects and wildlife, especially pollinators, with which they evolved over millennia.

The partners will target 50 species common throughout the project range, plus regional and site-specific species. They will collect from multiple populations to ensure genetic diversity, for a total of 1400 separate collections.

For more information, click here for the East Coast Seed Project Fact Sheet.


Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA)

Expectation is that the Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA) researchers will identify plants able to withstand the changing climate in the southwest, with the goal of providing this information to land managers and others for conservation and restoration projects. Managed translocation, or assisted migration, involves transplanting or moving plant communities to areas that may be outside their original ranges. In some cases, assisted migration may be the only way to ensure their survival in the wild.

Each experimental garden will be outfitted with an array of instruments to measure precipitation, wind speed, snow load, temperature, etc. Elevation gradients will be used as a stand in for precipitation (which increases with elevation.) Various soil types will be utilized as well. Data will be collected from all ten gardens and analyzed—with the expectation that specific genotypes will be identified.  The SEGA project will also identify populations of native plants that may out-compete invasive species. And assisted migration may be utilized to combat invasives, as well.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust is providing funding for development of place-based climate change teaching curricula and public outreach. The Arboretum at Flagstaff educators are working to develop materials that avert politicization and public passivity regarding climate change. They are developing best practices in teaching climate change, middle school education curricula and curriculum guides across content areas, educational exhibits, public education, docent training materials and much more.