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Mountain leeks (Allium lusitanicum) bloom in a flower pot: endangered plant species could thrive on a large scale in German gardens and green spaces

Photo: Katrin Kaltofen; Reinhard Witt / dpa

Endangered plant species could thrive on a large scale in German gardens and green spaces. More than 40 percent of the species on the Red List in this country are potentially usable for horticulture, reports a research team led by Ingmar Staude from the University of Leipzig in the journal "Scientific Reports". Two-thirds of these species are already available in the plant trade, although often only from a few producers.

Mountain leeks (Allium lusitanicum), forest anemone (Anemone sylvestris) and pitch carnation (Viscaria vulgaris) offer potential. They not only contribute to biodiversity, but can also grow under changing climatic conditions. Compared to conventional garden species, they more often prefer dry, nutrient-poor soils, and the need for water and fertilizer is lower. It may also reduce the cost of maintaining gardens in the city and in the countryside.

The scientists included the Red Lists of the 16 federal states, data from a platform for garden plants and product ranges from producers of native plants in their analysis. Based on the data, they designed an app in which plants suitable for gardens in different regions can be found. In addition, there is information on care and purchase. It could help gardeners get an overview and lower the entry threshold, according to the experts.

988 endangered species that can potentially be used in gardens

According to the analysis, an average of 845 plant species in the federal states are on the Red List – 41 percent of which are suitable for horticulture, in some federal states it is only 29 percent, in others 53. Nationwide, there are a total of 988 endangered species that can potentially be used in gardens, 66 percent of which (650) are already commercially available. However, field trials must first show which species are actually well suited for hobby gardeners.

In principle, however, the large-scale planting of private and public areas with the listed endangered species has the potential to reduce the threat status in individual federal states by up to 50 percent. Throughout Germany, the value could be reduced by up to 25 percent. However, politicians and the horticultural industry must do more to ensure that regionally declining native species are available and planted.

Monotonous portfolio in the hardware store

According to the study, there is still a strong and persistent preference in Germany for well-kept gardens with – often exotic – ornamental plants. Among other things, this is simply due to the supply: what is easily available is sown and planted frequently. DIY stores and discounters usually offer a monotonous portfolio of the same, fast and inexpensive plants and seeds.

Hardly any hardware store or garden center offers native, albeit not endangered species such as blackthorn, cornelian cherry and mountain ash, according to the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (Nabu). At the same time, the often offered woody plants such as forsythia, arborvitae and rhododendron are almost worthless for the local wildlife. "While the rhododendron, for example, does not provide food for any native bird species, the fruits of the mountain ash are on the menu of 63 bird species."

Nabu recommends that consumers consciously ask for native plants and encourage DIY stores to expand their range to include more native plants. It would be desirable if the horticultural industry were to offer more native plants, writes Staude's team. The researchers emphasize: The aesthetic beauty of gardens is not endangered with the planting of native rare species.