Conservation and Research


Plant conservation is an integral part of the mission of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Our goal is to educate visitors about the deterioration of plant biodiversity around the world and particularly the vulnerability of the worlds high alpine flora.


Collecting Seed in the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, CO 12,000ft

At 8,200 feet on the Roof of the Rockies, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is uniquely positioned to address conservation of the fragile alpine environment. Still in draft form, the Gardens has partnered with Denver Botanic Gardens to author the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation. Through a series of Objectives and Targets the goal of the strategy is to use the outline of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation to create a plan for protecting North America’s alpine plants.


Colorado Rare Plant Protection – Botanic gardens can play a key role as centers of expertise to help federal land management agencies use plant focused data when making big decisions.

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Betty Ford Alpine Gardens has been working with the Bureau of Land Management for many years to monitor and survey some of Colorado’s rarest plants. This information is critical to understanding how to manage land for the preservation of these plants.


Penstemon debilis (Parachute Penstemon) Penstemon debilis is one of North America’s rarest plants, federally protected by the Endangered Species Act since 2011. Ongoing monitoring of this rare plant is essential to understanding population trends. Penstemon debilis occurs in only four sites on the Roan Plateau in Garfield County. It is a beautiful low growing lavender plant and has a specialized growth habitat that allows it to grow on shifting shale slopes. As part of this work, the Gardens works to develop propagation protocols so that plants can be established for re-introduction in to the wild.

The Gardens also works with the Colorado Natural Areas Program to monitor Penstemon debilis on private land near the town of Parachute in Garfield County. These populations are part of a protection agreement with an oil company. Seed collection is an important way to ensure the protection of a species for the future. Staff has worked with Denver Botanic Gardens to collect seed from Penstemon debilis. This seed is protected at the National seed bank in Fort Collins for future generations.



Astragalus debequaeus (DeBeque Milkvetch) Only found in Colorado this Astragalus grows in Garfield County in the Colorado River Valley. It is an attractive low mounding plant with white pea like flowers. Ongoing monitoring efforts are contributing to our understanding of the life cycles of this rare plant. In 2011 Betty Ford Alpine Gardens was contracted to grow Astragalus debequaeus from seed for use in supplementing a population potentially impacted by mining operations. Valuable information was learned both about the conditions needed to grow the plant and the difficulties of re-introduction to the wild.



Penstemon harringtonii (Harrington’s Penstemon) This rare Penstemon is only found in Colorado centered in Eagle County and threatened by housing developments. Work with BLM staff has helped make estimating population sizes easier and more accurate. This information helps keep track of impacts of potential development on existing populations.










Eutrema penlandii

Eutrema penlandii This rare alpine plant of the Brassicaceae family is found only in moist areas in the Hoosier Pass region of the Mosquito Range. Betty Ford staff work with scientists around the State and the Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative to monitor its population.







Climate Change Monitoring Starting in 2014 Betty Ford scientists joined a BLM lead team of biologists to set up plots on the alpine tundra of the Mosquito Range to look at species composition trends. These ‘Modified Whittaker’ sampling plots are a vegetation sampling design that can be used for assessing plant communities at multi-scale. Over time scientists will be able to determine if the composition of plants on the alpine tundra is changing over time as the climate warms.


Adopt A Rare Plant Program – Understanding where rare plants are located and if they are threatened is critical information in understanding Colorado’s natural heritage. In the Adopt A Rare Plant Program, volunteers provide valuable assistance by collecting plant population data for the Colorado Natural Heritage Program.

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In partnership with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) volunteers from the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens monitor the status of Eagle County’s rare plant populations and look for new populations. The CNHP uses the information to keep a current database of all rare plants in the state. Plants that we monitor in the county include:

  • Aquilegia saximontana – Dwarf Rocky Mountain columbine
  • Cypripidium fasciculatum – Purple lady’s slipper orchid
  • Listera borealis – Northern twayblade
  • Penstemon harringtonii – Harrington’s penstemon
  • Platanthera sparsiflora var ensifolia – Canyon Bog orchid


Habitat Protection – Colorado is full of natural treasures that people come from all over the world to see. These treasures can be threatened by many different impacts such as recreational use, development and agriculture. Protecting habitat can be accomplished by many different methods such as education or physical barriers.

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Platanthera sparsiflora var ensifolia – Canyon Bog Orchid grows in wet areas along the Eagle River. This unusual orchid is threatened by walking trails to the river in the vicinity of one of the Colorado Department of Transport rest areas. CDOT worked with BFAG and signs were installed to advise visitors to stay on established pathways. Shrine Pass trail. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens recognized that the Shrine Pass trail, in the vicinity of the Shrine Pass huts, was impacting the fragile wetland flora. BFAG volunteers built a boardwalk though the wetlands to protect its rich plant life.






Global Strategy for Plant Conservation – To move toward a sustainable future, we must set goals and work to achieve them. The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) aims to halt the continuing loss of plant diversity. By setting targets and reviewing progress, we see how our efforts can make a big difference.

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The GSPC aims to guide world plant conservation. See link to document below.Vision 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.

Mission statement The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation is a catalyst for working together at all levels – local, national, regional and global – to understand, conserve and use sustainably the world’s immense wealth of plant diversity while promoting awareness and building the necessary capacities for its implementation. This strategy was adopted in The Hague on 19th April, 2002 and then updated for 2011-2020. Its 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. The strategy sets out 16 targets: Botanical Gardens are playing an instrumental role in this global effort. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Director, Nicola Ripley was part of the North American team assembled in 2010 to assess progress on the strategy and create its updated vision for 2011-2020.


Other National and International Strategies – Regional conservation strategies and an Agenda specifically for the role of Botanical Gardens have been developed to try and address plant conservation challenges.

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The International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation This is another document that guides the role that botanical gardens play in global plant conservation Botanic Gardens Conservation International (2000) The International Agenda is a policy framework for botanic gardens worldwide to contribute to biodiversity conservation, particularly as it relates to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The International Agenda is helping to promote the role of botanic gardens in conservation to a wider public. It provides a framework for gardens to demonstrate how their work contributes to vital plant conservation initiatives, like the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. For example, contributions made by institutions to implement the International Agenda are reported by BGCI to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) towards the achievement of the GSPC. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is one of 432 gardens worldwide that has registered its commitment to the Agenda. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is an institutional member of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, an organization that has taken on the role of working with botanical gardens worldwide to stem the loss of plant diversity.

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North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation This document guides the role that North American Gardens play in plant conservation Announced at the American Public Garden Association conference (APGA), the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation (NABGS) is a comprehensive continent-wide strategy, based on the targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. In the development of the NABGS, it was recognized that an effective response to plant conservation would require joint action. Thus the three country’s representatives worked together, each bringing a unique perspective and set of talents to the process. Also, because plant distributions do not follow political boundaries, it was agreed that the most effective course of action was to develop a strategy that covered Mexico, Canada and the USA. The result of three years of consultation and discussion, the NABGS has now been published by the American Public Gardens Association, the Asociación Mexicana de Jardines Botánicos, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network and the Centre for Plant Conservation. The NABGS recognizes that the botanical gardens of North America hold some of the most diverse collections of plants from around the world. Many gardens have the expertise, knowledge and resources to expand their plant conservation efforts beyond North America and assist in conserving non-native species in the countries of origin. Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), points out that “North America has many world class botanic gardens that have so much to offer other botanic gardens in global biodiversity hotspots. Exchange of skills and expertise will be vital to ensure that the targets of the GSPC are met by 2010. We are calling for 30% of US and Canadian botanical gardens to support international plant species and habitat conservation. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is currently working on a North American strategy for the protection of alpine flora.