Notes from the 5th Global Botanic Gardens Congress

I’ve just touched down at home after five days in New Zealand at the 5th Global Botanic Gardens Congress; 329 delegates from botanic gardens and arboreta from 45 countries gathered together in Dunedin, New Zealand, to learn how to strengthen our horticulture displays and plant collections, education and visitor programs, and plant conservation science. Our Chicago Botanic Garden motto is “Save the Plants, Save the Planet,” and what an amazing experience it is to spend time with people—mostly brilliant plant scientists—who share this passion and mission, and who will travel from every corner of the globe to help realize it.

Here are two particularly good slides that show some of the big-picture goals presented by Peter Wyse Jackson, Ph.D., president of the Missouri Botanical Garden and chairman of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (GPPC).

Drivers of Biodiversity Loss by Peter Wyse Jackson.
Drivers of biodiversity loss by Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson
Grand challenges for botanic gardens by Peter Wyse Jackson.
Grand challenges for botanic gardens by Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson

I had the honor of representing our garden in Chicago four times throughout the Congress, organized by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).  I presented at a symposium with colleagues from England, Austria, and Jordan about botanic gardens’ role in social change; chaired a panel of compelling speakers from Jordan, Mexico, Australia, and the U.S. who shared examples of how to engage communities in conservation; was challenged by the audience at an open forum with Stephen Blackmore, Ph.D. (Edinburgh), Dr. Tim Entwistle, Ph.D. (Melbourne), and Jack Hobbs (Auckland); and delivered a plenary address. If you want to see the range of topics and gardens represented, take a look at the BGCI Congress site; the Twitter comments #BGCI2013 also give highlights.

PHOTO: Group shot standing in front of ocean.
Kayri Havens-Young, Greg Mueller, and Sophia Siskel at Larnachs Castle, Otago, New Zealand

My Chicago Botanic Garden colleagues Greg Mueller, Ph.D., and Kayri Havens-Young, Ph.D., also attended and presented their work (and we had a lot of fun, too).

Being relatively new to the field of plant conservation, I set as one of my Congress goals the memorization of international conservation acronyms. To effectively make our way in any land we need to learn to speak the language!

PHOTO: Powerpoint slide
This is a PowerPoint slide of inside-baseball acronyms from one of the presentations.

So now, after writing down and decoding (i.e., asking the nice person next to me for help or drawing on the seemingly endless patience of my colleague Greg Mueller), the acronyms I heard, I am now semifluent (in that college French kind of way). Below, I offer a plant-conservation-centered sample of what I’ve learned—hopefully this primer will be helpful as you get involved in plant conservation. If you catch a mistake, please let me know!

A superb, professional explanation of UN environmental conventions, and how botanic gardens can support international goals (and more acronyms), may be found in the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation, 2nd edition.

CBD Convention on Biological Diversity
COP Conference of the Parties
SPB Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its 20 Aichi Targets, adopted by the COP to the CBD in Nagoya, Japan, 2010
GSPC Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, adopted by CBD at COP 2002
GPPC Global Partnership for Plant Conservation
CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
SBSTTA Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice
ABS Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing Procedures
GBO Global Biodiversity Outlook
NBSAPS National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans
NFP National Focal Point
UNCED United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio, 1992)
UNFCCC United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Rio, 1992, updated and strengthened by Kyoto Protocol, 2005)
MDG Millennium Development Goals (2000)
UNEP United Nations Environmental Programme
FAO Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
REDD Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries
REDD+ A Climate Change Mitigation Solution Related to REDD
IPBES Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature
SSC IUCN Species Survival Commission
TEEB The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
GBIF Global Biodiversity Information Facility
GTI Global Taxonomic Initiative
ISPN International Sentinel Plant Network
IPEN International Plant Exchange Network
EOL Encyclopedia of Life
TDWG Taxonomic Database Working Group (Pronounced “tadwig”— this one is my favorite because even after the group changed its name to Biodiversity Information Standards, it kept TDWG as its acronym! Keeping us on our toes.)
MSBP Millennium Seed Bank Partnership
SOS Seeds of Success and also Save our Species (through IUCN)
CWR Crop Wild Relatives
GCDT Global Crop Diversity Trust
ENSCONET European Seed Conservation Network
NGO Non-Governmental Organization
APGA American Public Gardens Association
AZA Association of Zoos & Aquariums
BGCI Botanic Gardens Conservation International
BSA Botanical Society of America
ERA Ecological Restoration Alliance
GCA Garden Clubs of America
CPC Center for Plant Conservation
NSCA Natural Science Collections Alliance
PCA Plant Conservation Alliance
MIPN Midwest Invasive Plant Network
NIPP Northeastern Illinois Invasive Plant Partnerships
BLM Bureau of Land Management
NSF National Science Foundation
USFWS U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
LCC Landscape Conservation Cooperative
USDA NIFA United States Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture
PHOTO: Peony bush.
Peonies at Larnachs Castle, New Zealand—October!
PHOTO: Wild echium.
Echium along roadside in New Zealand
PHOTO: Rhododendron shrub.
Rhododendrons at Dunedin Botanic Garden, New Zealand

Chicago experienced its first autumn frost while we were away, but spring in the southern hemisphere was in full bloom. Enjoying the remarkable flowers and landscapes of the South Island of New Zealand only intensified our passion for plants and the joy of gardens and nature.

Thank you BGCI, colleagues, the Dunedin Botanic Garden (and Shane the amazing bus #3 driver) for your leadership, friendship, and hospitality. Until Geneva 2017!

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Filming “Plants Are Cool, Too!”

This past spring I was asked by a friend and colleague, Chris Martine, to be featured in an upcoming episode of Plants Are Cool, Too! 

A few months later, in August, we taped episode 4, focusing on my work with plants and pollinators, and episode 5, which will feature the work of Mike Moore of Oberlin College on gypsum-endemic plants (to be released later this year).

PHOTO: Chris Martine and cameramen filming against New Mexico scenery.
Chris Martine shoots the intro to Plants Are Cool, Too!, episode 4. (Photo: Krissa Skogen)

So what exactly is Plants Are Cool, Too!?

Chris Martine created the web-based series Plants Are Cool, Too! to address a gap in the nature show genre: there are no shows focused explicitly on plants that might engage people, from elementary school kids on up. He set out to create a series focusing on some of the coolest plants, their stories, and the scientists who study them. As of today, four episodes have been released:

Episode 1 — The Pale Pitcher Plant
Episode 2 — Fossilized Forests
Episode 3 — Undead Zombie Flowers of Skunk Cabbage
Episode 4 — Desert Plants and Marathon Moths (my show—see it at the end of this post!)

Adventures with botanists and filmmakers

So what does it take to create an episode? And how about two episodes at once, in just three days? Certainly, lots of planning, people who know the lay of the land, and a fantastic film crew. Thankfully, Chris is really good at what he does—the team of people he pulled together couldn’t have been better.

PHOTO: Hartweg's sundrops blooming at dusk.
The star of the show: Hartweg’s sundrops (Oenothera hartwegii spp. filifolia), a night-blooming member of the evening primrose family. (Photo: Krissa Skogen)

Our first site for filming was Yeso Hills, just southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. We arrived at the golden hour, when the sun is near the horizon and casts a golden light on everything. As we turned off the highway onto a gravel road, we encountered a sea of sundrops (Oenothera hartwegii and O. gayleana). I had a hard time containing my excitement. I’ve seen photos of populations like this, but nothing like it in person. There were plants everywhere, hundreds of them, their yellow flowers on full display, glowing magnificently in the setting sun. I suspected it would be a fantastic night for hawkmoths—how could they not be drawn to this fantastic population? So many plants, so much nectar! It was going to be awesome. 

PHOTO: Setting up cameras on the dunes as the sun sets.
Here, we are setting up the site that will be filmed. (Photo: Patrick Alexander)

Until it wasn’t.

The sun set and we taped a handful of things: setting up the “moth sheet,” collecting floral scent, nectar, size measurements. And we waited and waited for the hawkmoths to show up; after about two and a half hours, we headed toward Carlsbad for the night. While I couldn’t imagine a better place for a hawkmoth to be, they clearly could.

PHOTO: Setting up a moth-catching framework at dusk.
Setting up the “moth trap”–a PVC frame with a bedsheet stretched over it. At night, a blacklight is turned on to attract night-flying insects (incuding hawkmoths) to the sheet. (Photo: Tim Kramer)
PHOTO: Cameraman filming the moth trap setup as the sun sets on the dunes.
In the dusky light we filmed the setup of our moth trap. (Photo: Tim Kramer)
PHOTO: Visitor Center entry to White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument (Photo: Krissa Skogen)

The following morning, we headed for White Sands National Monument, home of the world’s largest deposit of gypsum sand dune field, just west of Alamogordo, New Mexico. August 21 was a special night at White Sands—Full Moon Night. The park stays open until 11 p.m., and visitors come from near and far to experience the magic of the white sands by moonlight—which was one of the main reasons we were there. The flowers of the Hartweg’s sundrops glow in the moonlight and are very easy to see when the moon is full, by us as well as their hawkmoth pollinators.

After checking in with the National Park Service office, we set out to find Hartweg’s sundrops. The dunes provided the perfect white backdrop to capture hawkmoths visiting the flowers. Usually it’s hard to follow an individual moth at dusk; they become lost in the vegetation unless they’re quite close to you. At White Sands, you could follow an individual hawkmoth easily, from flower to flower, plant to plant—that is, if they showed up.

PHOTO: Sunset at White Sands National Monument.
The sun sets at White Sands National Monument–we eagerly anticipate the arrival of the moths and the full moon. (Photo: Krissa Skogen)

For a second night, we were out at the golden hour. Everything was beautiful, bathed in the light of the setting sun. We were feeling optimistic. Considering that this was our last chance to capture moths on film, we were prepared to stay as late as necessary. Looking around at everyone, I realized just how lucky I was, how lucky we all were to be there, together, at this incredible place, on what was sure to be an incredible night. Could we also be so lucky as to be graced by the presence of hawkmoths? We had come so far to capture this moment, and I have experienced many nights when conditions seemed ideal for hawkmoths to show up, only to be stood up instead—like the night before, at Yeso Hills.

PHOTO: Filming the episode in the dark. The moth trap provides a backlight for the "cast."
Krissa and Chris catch hawkmoths and discuss their role in pollination of Hartweg’s sundrops and other night-flowering plants. (Photo: Tim Kramer)

Before long, the sun had dropped over the horizon and the timing seemed right. I mentioned to Chris that I wouldn’t be surprised if we started to see some hawkmoths. As if on cue, a moth flew right by Chris’s head, close enough for him to hear its papery wings fluttering about—all as the camera was rolling! To say I was excited is an understatement. One moth turned into two…three…six…ten—visiting flowers, drinking nectar, and picking up pollen on their tongues, faces, and bodies, moving it from flower to flower—doing the ever-so-important job of pollination. You see, these plants will not produce fruits or seeds on their own—they require pollen from a different plant to do so, and that pollen has to be transported by a pollinator.

So after much nervous anticipation, the hawkmoths had arrived. And now you can see the full episode and how our adventures fit together into a nice story about desert plants that flower at night and their hawkmoth pollinators!

PHOTO: Pinned specimen of Hyles lineata.
White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata). Just after sunset, a number of moths started to visit flowers, as if on cue! (Photo: Krissa Skogen)

Many thanks to Chris, Tim, and Paul, for being so incredibly fantastic to work with, and Mike, Norm, Hilda, Helga and Patrick, from whom I learned a great deal about the New Mexico flora and gypsum endemism. Thank you to Sophia Siskel and the Chicago Botanic Garden for providing financial and institutional support. This trip was truly the experience of a lifetime.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and