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Botanical Garden Looks At Effects Of Climate Change On Midwest Plants

Daria McKevley is the supervisor of home gardening information and outreach at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Adam Smith is the assistant scientist at the Missouri Botanical Garden's Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development.

With the United Nations and New York City hosting Climate Week 2019 this week, climate change has been on the minds of many. But what does climate change mean here in the Midwest? The Missouri Botanical Garden isn’t just asking that question. Its scientists are also developing answers by closely surveying Midwestern plant life.

Joining host Sarah Fenske on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air to explain climate change’s effects on the region were Missouri Botanical Garden's assistant scientist, Adam Smith, and Daria McKevley, a supervisor of home gardening information and outreach at the center. 

The Climate Garden is a space allocated at the center where plants are “tested for their hardiness.” 

“We are selecting plants that are typically found zone 7-plus and seeing how well they do in the St. Louis area,” McKevley said. She explained that zones are ranges of the average minimum temperatures that classify which parts of the country certain plants can grow in. St. Louis is in zone 6, but that hasn’t always been the case. 

“We actually used to be about zone 5 … and now we’re seeing that we’re kind of starting to warm up — and that’s a concern,” McKevley added. 

Since 1970, the St. Louis region has warmed up by about three degrees, Smith said. While that might not seem like much, it’s a lot when it comes to the ecosystem. 

“With regards to the natural world, plants especially, you’re out there literally 24/7, 365 [days a year], and three degrees can make a really big difference [as to] whether you live or die, or reproduce,” he added. 

But rising temperatures aren’t the only indicator of global warming. 

“Climate is not just temperature … it’s whether it’s foggy in the morning or foggy in the evening. It’s whether it rains at night or during the day, whether we get cold snaps earlier or later in the year,” Smith said. “All these different facets of climate are changing, and many of them suggest we’re going to have more and more extreme events.”

Have questions about sustainable living? Check out the the Garden’s Green Resources Answer Service.

Listen to hear specifics about which forms of plant life can and can’t be sustained in the region:


St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.