Gift of conifer trees for international conservation
A very special parcel has been unwrapped by conservationists at Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden in Hong Kong, with the best of wishes for 2020, from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). Forty rooted cuttings of the small conifer Amentotaxus argotaenia have been specially propagated and gently transported from Scotland in a bid to boost populations of natural habitat.
News of their safe arrival has been welcomed by Martin Gardner, Coordinator of the Edinburgh-based International Conifer Conservation Programme, and the team of horticulturists who acted on a plea from Kadoorie Senior Curator Craig Williams who set the ball rolling two years ago. He had learned Edinburgh was home to a living specimen of the “near endangered” conifer, which is very rare in Hong Kong, where it is a native species. He was seeking more information about that specimen and whether it might be possible to obtain cuttings to boost the Hong Kong garden’s ex-situ conservation programme.
While one tree was known to be growing in the wild, on Tai Mo Shan, and considered to be in good health, the only specimen in the garden was not in the same positive state of health. Craig Williams was worried about the prospects of any remaining wild plants.
““Having heard of the problems they were encountering with Amentotaxus in Hong Kong, we were very keen to help and agreed we should root some plants to boost their conservation efforts,” said Martin Gardner. “When I visited in 1993 there was only one tree in its native habitat of Tai Mo Shan Country Park, in the New Territories. It was a small, female, multi-stemmed tree of five metres in height but known to be sterile. This appears to be the location – and, therefore, the specimen from which seed was located by RBGE in the 1970’s. Therefore, it is most likely we are bringing the story full circle.”
Once cuttings were rooted and considered viable for making the journey, RBGE’s own plant health specialists undertook health inspections to ensure that the plants were free of pathogens or disease. Then, Scottish Government officials from SASA (Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture) visited RBGE to carry out a phytosanitary inspection.
With a Plant Import Licence granted for entry into Hong Kong Airport, the cuttings were inspected one final time. All received a clean bill of health and were dispatched on their long inter-continental journey.
The demonstration of international cooperation has heartened RBGE’s new conservation horticulture partners in Hong Kong: “Amentotaxus argotaenia is a protected species here and it is of immense value to us to have rooted material from the Edinburgh accession, especially as the provenance turns out to be so close to our main reforestation project,” added Craig Williams. “There are many locations within the reforestation plots suitable for this species and we would also like to establish groups within our seed orchards. This is a great example of the genuine conservation potential of botanic gardens’ living collections. We aim to provide interpretation alongside a few specimens in our public display areas to explain the story of their amazing journey from one tree in Edinburgh.”
Head of the Flora Conservation Department Gunter Fisher added: “This is a great example of a shared vision for the conservation of rare plants and shows how botanic gardens can collaborate to put their living collections to constructive and practical use in global efforts.”
In a final twist to the tale, Simon Milne, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, has taken the opportunity to visit the site where the young trees will be planted. Returning to Scotland, he reported on how impressed he had been by the initiative: “Conservation is a global issue and the international botanic gardens network, by sharing expertise, has a vital role to play. To visit the translocation site for these Amentotaxus argotaenia, propagated in Edinburgh for our partners at the amazing Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, is to witness important eco restoration in action. This is an important example of initiatives already being done: and what must be tackled around the world, planting the right species in the appropriate habitats.”
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