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United Plant Savers and Sacred Seeds Sanctuary Collaborate for Plant Conservation

United Plant Savers and Sacred Seeds Sanctuary Collaborate for Plant Conservation

In October 2014, United Plant Savers (UpS) announced its merger with Sacred Seeds Sanctuary, uniting two organizations with the common goal of native plant conservation.1 Both organizations oversee groups of botanical gardens devoted to raising and preserving native plants, including UpS’s Botanical Sanctuary Network and Sacred Seeds’ Foundational Gardens. According to a Sacred Seeds press release, the merger is intended “to grow our Botanical Sanctuary Network and the Foundation Gardens in the effort to safeguard traditional plant knowledge and the native habitats in which these sacred plants thrive.”2

Sacred Seeds, a coalition of sanctuaries and gardens managed through the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, works to preserve biodiversity and plant knowledge around the world through its Foundational Gardens. Sacred Seeds began with Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica, and there now are Foundational Gardens in 14 different countries, including at the American Botanical Council’s Case Mill Homestead in Austin, Texas. These gardens propagate native plants with medicinal, ceremonial, food, and craft value.

UpS celebrated its 20th year in 2014, and Executive Director Susan Leopold, PhD, looks forward to expanding the scope of its projects. “This merger allows us to share internationally the framework that UpS had created,” she wrote (email, November 22, 2014). “Sacred Seeds brings with it the knowledge of [its founders].… [T]o have Tom Newmark, Steve Farrell, Dr. Michael Balick, and Dr. Rainer Bussmann join the intellectual mission of UpS is incredible.” Similar to the founding of Sacred Seeds, the UpS Botanical Sanctuary Network started with the Goldenseal Botanical Sanctuary in Rutland, Ohio, and now includes gardens in 31 US states as well as two Canadian provinces.

As part of the organization’s continuing efforts to conserve valuable medicinal plants, UpS recently published a “Plants at Risk” tool and assessment guide, in addition to its “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” lists. The tool and guide are focused primarily on plants in the United States, but Dr. Leopold hopes that the new partnership with Sacred Seeds will allow the project to go global. “[The list] has helped bring awareness and more sourcing of cultivated plant material when possible,” she wrote. “We hope to work with international Sacred Seeds gardens to help establish regional lists of at-risk and to-watch plants.”

Plants with traditional and medicinal uses face dwindling population numbers due to environmental factors and human activities, including overharvesting, destruction of habitat, an increased herbivore population, and drought. Such factors emphasize the importance of conservation-focused organizations such as UpS and Sacred Seeds. “We all know the cultural and physical landscape is changing rapidly,” Dr. Leopold wrote, “and we need the ethnobotanical tool box to reverse the loss of plant knowledge and the rapid extinction of native medicinal and sacred plants.”

“All of us at Sacred Seeds are thrilled that Dr. Susan Leopold and her team at United Plant Savers will now be administering our international project,” wrote Tom Newmark, chair and co-founder of Sacred Seeds (email, December 8, 2014). “We are deeply grateful to Ashley Glenn and the William L. Brown Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden for their foundational work on behalf of our project, and we look forward to their continued collaboration. We need to establish more Sacred Seeds sanctuaries around the world; indeed, our founding mission was to have sanctuaries in every life zone around the world, and by connecting them in an open network help to preserve both plants and traditional knowledge. We’re well on our way, and through this confederation with UpS we expect a rapid build of our international network.”

The collaboration between the two organizations was made possible through support from New Chapter®, a key sponsor of Sacred Seeds Sanctuary.

—Hannah Bauman


  1. United Plant Savers and Sacred Seeds join forces to expand mission of medicinal plant conservation [press release]. Front Royal, Virginia: United Plant Savers; October 29, 2014. Available at:!. Accessed November 24, 2014.
  2. United Plant Savers and Sacred Seeds join forces [press release]. Sacred Seeds Sanctuary; November 4, 2014. Available at: Accessed November 24, 2014.