Betty Ford gardens help catalog rare plant species in Colorado

Staff Report
The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens operates its own seed bank, where staff members and volunteers catalogue alpine plant species and attempt to revive endangered populations.
Special to the Daily |

VAIL — Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, nestled along the banks of Gore Creek, is considered the premier alpine botanical gardens in the country. Yet aside from providing an ecological sanctuary for visitors, the gardens also peruse important horticultural examination.

“It’s more than just a pretty garden,” said Nicola Ripley, the executive director of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

The Vail-based nonprofit organization operates its own seed bank, where it catalogs alpine plant species and attempts to revive endangered populations like the rare Penstemon debilis. It also helps maintain the health of alpine ecosystems throughout Colorado in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and its Seeds for Success program — a coalition of governmental and nongovernmental organizations attempting to catalog and preserve America’s native plant species.


Seed collection done by Betty Ford Alpine Gardens directly lends itself to a more complete understanding of complex alpine ecosystems and how to best conserve them. It also helps to provide a wild seed base from which to repopulate an ecosystem’s natural fauna and flora after a natural disaster like wildfire, flood or mudslide.

Ideally, a comprehensive wild seed bank could return an ecosystem’s plant life to its “true wild characteristics and traits,” said Nick Courten, the gardens’ senior horticulturist, adding that the reintroduction of natural plants could reinvigorate an entire ecosystem. “It’s the web of life. Plants and pollinators all depend on each other,” he said.

Plant samples gathered by the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens are sent to Oregon, where they are scrubbed, sorted, studied and stored by the BLM. While the process of cataloguing an entire ecosystem’s plant life is nearly impossible, Seeds of Success has already compiled some 10,000 seeds for over 15,000 plant species and the program is forever gathering new partners like the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

The gardens began working with Seeds of Success last spring. As the first partner to specialize in the alpine horticulture, it was able to successfully catalogue seeds for both the marsh marigold and the Arctic gentian. With another year of training, Betty Fords Alpine Gardens hopes to catalogue more species next spring and further encapsulate the natural wonder surrounding Vail.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is the highest botanical garden in North America and provides free access to an estimated 100,000 visitors annually. Located on a little over three acres in Ford Park, the gardens is open to the public from dawn until dusk throughout the year.

A complete list of activities and events is available at or by calling 970-476-0103, ext. 3.

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