Bicton’s botanical project is protecting the world’s rarest plants from exctinction

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 January 2018 | UPDATED: 08:12 26 January 2018

Martin Gardener MBE (right), of the International Conifer Conservation Programme. Pictured at Bicton Botanic Gardens with curator Neville Evans handing over an endangered Fitzroya cupressoides, from Chile, as part of a collaborative conservation project.

Martin Gardener MBE (right), of the International Conifer Conservation Programme. Pictured at Bicton Botanic Gardens with curator Neville Evans handing over an endangered Fitzroya cupressoides, from Chile, as part of a collaborative conservation project.

Archant

The team at Bicton is carrying out work to safeguard the future survival of a range of critically endangered plants, in collaboration with Bedgebury Pinetum, Westerbirt Arboretum and the International Conifer Conservation Programme, based at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.

Bicton Park's Italian Garden. Bicton Park's Italian Garden.

A unique tree-planting project in East Devon is bringing the public up-close and personal with the world’s rarest species while protecting them from extinction.

Bicton Park Botanical Gardens is currently engaged in the biggest tree planting the 64-acre estate has seen since the Victorian period.

But some of the 250 saplings being planted are not ones you will see growing in the East Devon landscape.

The park’s gardens curator Neville Evans has been busy procuring plant material from all over the world as part of a globally important project.

The Hibiscus Clayi, from Hawaii, of which there are only four growing in the wild, is one of the plants being conserved at Bicton. The Hibiscus Clayi, from Hawaii, of which there are only four growing in the wild, is one of the plants being conserved at Bicton.

He said: “Many of the plants are in very small numbers and in very localised areas; we are taking them away from the threat they face in their natural habitats.”

Many of the species in the project have less than 300 growing naturally in the wild.

Earthquakes, volcano eruptions and wildfires constantly threaten their survival, making the work taking place at Bicton even more vital.

Neville said: “All it takes is for one person to come and fell an area and that species is lost forever.

“Having the material here means we can then propagate from those plants and reintroduce those plants to where they would naturally occur.”

An example of a species at Bicton which has fewer than 300 growing in the wild, is the Picea Koyamae, indigenous to two mountain ranges in Japan.

Only ‘natural source’ material, from plants’ native habitats, creates the genetic diversity needed for reintroduction programmes.

For example, the International Conifer Conservation Programme has provided the park with 50 cedar saplings, from the Atlas Mountains, in Morocco.

At last count, there were only 14 Petunia Exserta plants growing in the wild, in Southern Brazil. At last count, there were only 14 Petunia Exserta plants growing in the wild, in Southern Brazil.

Neville said: “These are a critically endangered species and we are going to have 50 of them growing here at Bicton, all together, so that is quite an exciting prospect.”

The project also extends to Bicton’s glass houses which are home to a number of extremely endangered species.

One of these is the Hibiscus Clayi, from Hawaii; invasive plants and animals mean there are only four left in the wild.

Another is the Petunia Exserta, of which there are only 14 plants growing wild in its native southern Brazil.

Bicton Park Botanical Gardens' Tropical House, which contains natural surce material from some of the world's most critically endangered plants. Bicton Park Botanical Gardens' Tropical House, which contains natural surce material from some of the world's most critically endangered plants.

Mr Evans said the whole point of the project is to highlight the importance of plants and the threats that face them.

He added: “We are hoping through collaboration with botanical institutions we can continue to develop Bicton’s collections for future generations.”

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