Southeast Environmental Research Program, Florida International University
Center for Plant Conservation

An Action Plan to Conserve the Native Plants of Florida


Recommendation Two: Develop and implement innovative programs to educate a wider public about the practical importance of native plants, the threats to them, and the ramifications associated with their loss.

Organizations specializing in habitat conservation in Florida have been quite successful in establishing a system of preserves in remote locations throughout the state. However, for rare plants, these successes have been more than matched by the losses of important natural areas to residential and agricultural development and by a general decline in the biological quality of the preserves themselves. The condition of the native plant resource in Florida can be improved through the growth of a broader, better informed plant and habitat conservation constituency. While the educational activities of state agencies and school systems and, indirectly, the traditional news media have resulted in greater public awareness of environmental issues than a decade ago, much remains to be done to build support for plant conservation. Perhaps the central need is to convert a mostly unfocused public sympathy for environmental issues into active support for plant and habitat conservation. We believe this must begin by involving people personally. Several successful programs known to encourage hands-on involvement in plant conservation were described above: the Florida Native Plant Society programs that appealed to the economic and aesthetic concerns of homeowners; the TNC volunteer programs; the various school programs that encouraged student contact with native habitats and ecological relation ships; etc. If personal involvement is a crucial first step in creating plant conservationists, then environmental educators must develop or enhance programs to bring this experience to individuals or groups not presently being reached. Perhaps as important, the message conveyed by the Florida native plant conservation community needs to become more focused, especially so that it can be distinguished from the many other, sometimes conflicting, environmental messages. One subject toward which the native plant message might be directed is the state's exotic plant problem. While many solutions are being developed and tried, individual involvement in eliminating invasive exotics, and planting natives, is gaining interest and ascendancy. But spreading such a message to large audiences usually involves mass media, and associated costs are beyond the means of most conservation organizations. State agencies charged with the stewardship of Florida's natural areas and rare species must assume a greater leadership role in educating the public on this and on other plant conservation issues.

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