research projects

The Research and Conservation department of Denver Botanic Gardens plays a critical role in the conservation, preservation, and documentation of native Colorado flora by serving as an active center of biodiversity research for the Southern Rocky Mountain region. Through our monitoring, survey, seed collection and documentation efforts, we are helping land managers understand the distribution and status of species found on their lands.

Our conservation genetics program is investigating diversity levels and patterns in some of our state’s rarest species. Our ethnobotanical and fungal collections are unique in the region and serve as educational hubs for the public. In collaboration with our partnering groups and agencies, we collect essential data for long-term understanding and management of species at risk of extirpation. Our program is known for consistency of product, and longevity of commitment to the projects on which we work.

View Where We Work in a larger map with more details on each project.

Current Projects

  • Project:

    Astragalus microcymbus (Skiff Milkvetch) long-term demographic monitoring.

    Partner:

    Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

    Duration:
    Ongoing, began in 1995.
    Summary:

    Monitoring of this rare Astragalus species takes place in the Gunnison area. Our data have been instrumental in the listing of this species as a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.

  • Project:

    Penstemon harringtonii (Harrington’s Penstemon) long-term demographic monitoring.

    Partner:

    BLM.

    Duration:
    Ongoing, began in 1996.
    Summary:

    We monitor this highly threatened Penstemon along the 1-70 corridor. Monitoring results indicate the species is stable in these areas.

  • Project:

    Eriogonum brandegeei (Brandegee’s Buckwheat) long-term demographic monitoring, ecological niche modeling.

    Partner:

    BLM.

    Duration:
    Ongoing, began in 2003. Ecological niche modeling started in 2010.
    Summary:

    We monitor this rare species in the Salida/Canon City area, which is threatened from off-road vehicle use. Ecological niche modeling was initiated in 2010, and we are currently refining the model to help determine habitat characteristics and specificity.

  • Project:

    Sclerocactus glaucus (Colorado hookless cactus) long-term demographic monitoring and population genetics.

    Partner:

    BLM, Black Hills Exploration and Production, University of Northern Colorado, and US Fish & Wildlife Service.

    Duration:
    Monitoring began in 2007 with a genetic component in 2009.
    Summary:

    We conduct demographic monitoring in 11 plots throughout the species’ range. In 2009 and 2010, leaf tissue was collected for genetic analysis for both S. glaucus and a morphologically similar species S. parviflorus to examine possible hybridization between the two species within Colorado. The genetic work is conducted in collaboration with the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. In the DeBeque area, we implemented a study this year, which will examine impacts of disturbance from oil & gas exploration on both S. glaucus and common associated species.

  • Project:

    Assessment of genetic diversity of Lesquerella (Physaria) congesta, Dudley Bluffs bladderpod and Physaria obcordata Dudley Bluffs twinpod.

    Partner:

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

    Duration:
    2009 – 2013.
    Summary:

    We are evaluating genetic diversity levels and patterns in both Lesquerella congesta and Physaria obcordata to gain an understanding of how genetic diversity is distributed within both rare species. Our results will help prioritize populations for protection and seed collection.

  • Project:

    Surveys, population assessment, and assessment of genetic diversity in the North Park Phacelia (Phacelia formosula).

    Partner:

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Brigham Young University Herbarium.

    Duration:
    2009 – 2013.
    Summary:

    In collaboration with Brigham Young University Herbarium and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, we are conducting population assessments of all known populations of the North Park Phacelia. The Gardens is conducting the genetic portion of the study to evaluate levels and patterns of genetic diversity across all populations. In addition, we are evaluating whether or not the three populations located in Larimer County are P. formosula or a different species (perhaps a new species).

  • Project:

    Genetic assessment of Corispermum navicula and Corispermum americanum at the cold climate sand dunes in Northern Colorado.

    Partner:

    Colorado Native Plant Society, BLM, Colorado Natural Areas Program, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

    Duration:
    2009.
    Summary:

    The boat-shaped bugseed (Corispermum navicula) is known only from the cold climate dunes in Northern Colorado. It is not clear if the bugseed found at the dunes is truly a unique species, C. navicula, or a variety of the common bugseed, C. americanum. We collected leaf tissue from individuals of varying size across the dunes to assess the genetic uniqueness of individuals presumed to be C. navicula.

  • Project:

    Center for Plant Conservation seed collection for ex-situ conservation

    Duration:
    We have partnered with the CPC since 1984. Work is ongoing.
    Summary:

    We maintain 60+ rare, threatened, and endangered plant species across the Rocky Mountain region through seed collection, seed banking at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, and additional projects as needs arise. Additional projects involve collecting species within National Parks and those threatened by oil shale development.

  • Partner:

    Colorado Natural Areas Program.

    Duration:
    Began in 2007 – ongoing.
    Summary:

    This is a collaborative project with the Colorado Natural Areas Program. Volunteers are trained in the theory and practice of rare plant monitoring during a two-day training. Additional trainings are offered for various projects such as Adopt-a-Rare Plant, seed scouting etc. Over 60 volunteers have been trained since 2007. Training occurs once a year and alternates between the East and West slopes.

  • Project:

    Floristic inventory work.

    Partner:
    Duration:
    Ongoing.
    Summary:

    Documenting floristic or plant diversity within a given area over time. A location is visited multiple times a year and representatives of all flowering plants are collected. A plant list summarizing plants found in the area is produced by Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium staff.

  • Project:

    Mycofloristic inventory work.

    Partner:
    Duration:
    Generally one ‘blitz’ over a multi-day period, ongoing.
    Summary:

    Documenting mycological diversity within a given area over time. The site is generally visited once and representatives of all fungi (fruiting bodies) are collected. A fungal list summarizing fungi found in the area is produced by the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi staff.

  • Project:

    Lilac phenology

    Duration:
    Began in 2012, ongoing
    Summary:

    We are adding to the long, rich history of lilac phenology data being collected throughout the country to better understand how plants are responding to things like climate change and urbanization. We are observing plants in the lilac garden at our York Street location, including Syringa vulgaris varieties. Having all of these varieties in one location provides a nice opportunity to determine if phenology varies among the varieties. Whereas most of the research we do is in more remote locations, anyone can come and see the plants we are monitoring and participate in the monitoring themselves.