• July 18th, 2024
  • Thursday, 04:25:43 PM

Preserving Colorado’s Natural Heritage

Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin/Denver Botanic Gardens The Denver Botanic Gardens preserves natural heritage by studying and actively conserving the flora of Colorado.

Stephanie White


Natural heritage refers to landscapes, waterways, plants and animals and their preservation and enjoyment throughout generations. In Colorado, our natural heritage is the grass, hawk, snake and prairie dog of the prairie; the willow, duck, beaver and brooks of the wetland; the sagebrush, burrowing owl, fox and rocky outcrops of the shrubland; the pine, juniper, deer and bear of the woodlands; the aspen, elk, moose and mountain streams of the forest; and the snow banks, meadows, marmots and pikas of the alpine. Scientists work to preserve this natural heritage, but contributions from local communities can play an important role in this work, too.

At Denver Botanic Gardens, we preserve natural heritage by studying and actively conserving the flora of Colorado. Strolling through the Gardens, you may spy rare plant species of our state. These displays add to the diversity of plants that we have at the Gardens and showcase Colorado’s plant diversity. Additionally, these plants produce seeds which can be collected and stored to bring rare species back to the wildlands should reintroductions be needed. For more than 30 years, we have traveled from prairie to mountain to collect seed of rare native plants as a means of protecting these species.

We hope that you will consider joining the Denver EcoFlora Project to help preserve the natural heritage of Colorado – and of Denver.

Collecting and storing seed is a great way to preserve our natural heritage, but we also want to protect natural wild plant communities – the ones that people see when they travel between prairie and mountain. To protect living plants, we improve plant habitat. One of our projects focuses on wetland habitat of Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms, a 700-acre property in Jefferson County, which we manage. Each summer, we take our habitat restoration skills to the wetland. We plant native plants, weed invasive ones and make improvements to Deer Creek, which is home to wetland plants as well as duck, great blue heron and beaver.

Another way to protect living plants is to talk to land managers about the plants on their properties. We collaborate with landowners to conduct studies assessing plant populations over time. Through these studies, we provide land managers with scientifically sound data so that they can make informed management decisions. One example is the hookless cactus, an endangered species that only grows in desert shrublands of Colorado. This cactus is threatened by habitat loss. Annual trips to the desert shrubland allow us to collect data on hookless cactus populations that helps land managers understand if, and how, changes to management may be impacting population health over time.

Preserving natural heritage is not just the work of scientists; anyone can help. This year, we launched the Denver EcoFlora Project to enable anyone in the Denver metro area to document local plants and to make an impact on land management decisions.

The Denver EcoFlora Project works through iNaturalist, a smartphone application. Using iNaturalist, anyone with a smartphone can collect photos of plants, fungi or animals, along with GPS coordinates on where the species is living. When you upload a photo, iNaturalist will use photos of other plants, fungi and animals to guess the identification of the species you have photographed. The Denver EcoFlora Project is all about documenting plants, so each plant photo uploaded is automatically added to the project. We check the project regularly to verify identifications of plants and to summarize the data on observed plants. Your contributions are valuable and can help inform land management decisions. In June, we asked EcoFlora participants to document the invasive garlic mustard. Thanks to their observations, we identified garlic mustard growing in two locations where it had not been documented before. This valuable data allows us to coordinate with weed managers to have this invasive species removed.

The Denver EcoFlora Project brings the conservation tools we have been using throughout the wildlands of Colorado to our communities. While our natural heritage is in the prairie, wetland, shrubland, forest and alpine, it is also in the enjoyment and preservation of our environment as we have altered it – meaning the yards, trails, bike paths and parks within our communities, and the plants growing within them. We hope that you will consider joining the Denver EcoFlora Project to help preserve the natural heritage of Colorado – and of Denver.

The Denver Botanic Gardens is gradually re-opening to the public. Denver Botanic Gardens’ York Street and Chatfield Farms locations are open with limited capacity and timed tickets.


Stephanie White is a Research Coordinator with the Denver Botanic Gardens.