450 Acres of Unexplored Botanical Treasures

June 14, 2021 Jennifer Ackerfield , Head Curator of Natural History Collections & Associate Director of Biodiversity Research

Denver Botanic Gardens is excited to partner with the Denver Mountain Parks Foundation on a floristic study of the soon-to-be newest Denver mountain park – Axton Ranch – which was recently acquired by the City of Denver. Previously a private ranch, the area consists of 450 acres of pristine meadows, pine forests and aspen groves, but has never been explored to understand what plant species and communities are present. Therefore, the Gardens will conduct a floristic study, led by University of Colorado Denver Ph.D. student Audrey Spencer, to inventory the biodiversity of this area. Who knows what botanical treasures will be discovered in the process?!

Group at Axton Ranch

Denver Mountain Parks Foundation Board Chair Kate Fritz, Axton Ranch land donor Kathy Axton, Denver Mountain Parks Planner Brad Eckert and University of Colorado Denver Ph.D. student Audrey Spencer. Photo: Janet Wingate

Conservation of biodiversity relies first on understanding what plant species and communities are present in an area – the basis of a floristic inventory. Without this baseline knowledge, vulnerable species or critical habitats may be lost, or invasive, noxious weeds may spread uncontrolled. Floristic inventories not only help us to understand what is present but help inform best conservation practices to protect biodiversity for future generations. These studies also provide affirmation of and information for continued good land stewardship.

This partnership will also help fulfill our commitment to the principles of IDEA – inclusion, diversity, equity and access. All the plant species will be documented using both a physical specimen as well as an observation. Physical specimens will be pressed, dried and mounted onto herbarium sheets for permanent preservation in the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium of Vascular Plants onsite at the Gardens. Observations will be made using the app iNaturalist. Both will provide accessibility of the data to other researchers as well as the public.

On Axton Ranch

Photo: Audrey Spencer

We will also use this opportunity to provide immersive opportunities to train the next generation of scientists. Along with Head Curator of Natural History Collections Jennifer Ackerfield and Emeritus Curator Janet Wingate, two high school interns will be joining Audrey on field expeditions to Axton Ranch. These interns will learn about the career path of a scientist, gain valuable work experience in the sciences, and build their own professional skills. Oh, and they will have a lot of fun exploring and documenting the flora of the area using iNaturalist, too! 

We can’t wait to see what we discover as we explore and document the flora of Axton Ranch. 

Axton Ranch

Photo: Audrey Spencer



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