The Rare Plant Conservation Program at Bok Tower Gardens works to save a special Vero Beach native
At the intersection of a Finnish American botanist, a longtime editor of Ladies Home Journal and a 205-foot singing neo-Gothic tower sits a very refreshing little plant. It is one of the rarest plants in the world. And it lives in our backyard and nowhere else.
Lakela’s mint is a severely endangered aromatic shrub whose only known habitat is a strip of land about 3 miles long and less than half a mile wide in northern St. Lucie and southern Indian River counties.
It is one of 64 Florida species being fostered by the Rare Plant Conservation Program at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, about 80 miles west of Vero Beach. The program’s 2,500 plants and 3 million seeds represent the garden’s contribution to a national collection of threatened and endangered plant species maintained by the Center for Plant Conservation through its network of 57 botanical gardens and organizations.
Cheryl Peterson, the biologist who runs Bok’s Rare Plant Conservation Program, is enthusiastic about her work. She discusses the plants in her care with approximately the same demeanor as a mother describing her child’s latest accomplishments. After studying botany and microbiology at the University of Oklahoma, she obtained master’s degrees in cell and molecular biology from Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. “I wanted to learn about life,” she says, “to understand it and to work to promote it and protect it.”