Rare plants from Chile are on the move at the Botanics
An exceptional collection of plants from Chile, normally tucked away behind the Glasshouses of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), is now being relocated within the Garden, giving visitors access to the plants for the first time since 2020.
The Chilean Terrace is home to 98 species of Chilean plants wild-collected by Botanics’ teams and Chilean partners over the last 40 years but now, with the Edinburgh Biomes restoration of the Glasshouses fully underway, the collection is carefully being lifted and relocated to new homes in the Garden. Among them is the fruit tree Gomortega keule, endangered in its own land.
Will Hinchliffe, Arboricultural Supervisor at RBGE explained its significance: “Gomortega keule is only native to Chile, but its habitat is gradually being destroyed and the few remaining individual trees in the country – perhaps only around 1,000 – are in highly fragmented populations.
“Gomortega keule is in a struggle for its very survival, but it is very unusual to find specimens in cultivation. At RBGE, our research and study of this plant will help us to better understand the species, potentially contributing towards its long-term survival.”
Prior to the removal of plants from the Chilean Terrace, RBGE’s horticulturists have been propagating plants to ensure they are conserved in the Collection. This often requires an experimental approach as expert horticulturists need to determine the best times of year, types of plant material and ways to treat the cuttings, before a successful method for each plant can be confirmed.
For plants such as Gomortega keule, the challenge for RBGE horticulturists is even greater. The tree is not easily grown or propagated in cultivation, proving resistant to attempts to propagate from cuttings. The next step may include micropropagation trials, where small pieces of the plant tissue are grown under laboratory conditions.
In the meantime, great care will be taken to remove the specimen with as much of the root ball as possible, before transplanting it in a suitable new location in the Garden. Expert horticultural aftercare will ensure the tree’s survival and the chance for horticulturists to research further into the conservation of this rare species.
Gomortega keule is representative of many of the endangered plants being grown at RBGE. They each tell the story of a species threatened with extinction and the contribution made by RBGE and botanic gardens around the world to aid their conservation and survival.
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