Saving the Tree Ferns
A group of seven-metre-tall Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns, growing for nearly 150 years in the temperate heat of the Garden’s Glasshouses, were lifted and removed from the Ferns and Fossils Glasshouse before being safely transported 150 miles to their new home at RBGE’s Logan Botanic Garden in Dumfries & Galloway.
The tree ferns are among 500 plants being moved from the Glasshouse prior to its restoration and other species include the massive Thyrsopteris elegans. Only found on the remote Chilean islands of Juan Fernandez, it is endangered in its natural habitat.
Watch the short film below to hear more about the challenges of moving such large plants.
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Saving the Tree Ferns
- Read video transcript
Video Transcript Time Description [Kate Miller, Horticulturist] The plants need to come out the glasshouse that we're presently standing in, just to allow for structural maintenance to be performed on the glasshouses, and this will allow for the longevity of the glasshouses. Within this glasshouse, there is about 116 species. We are removing all of them and taking them away to different growing environments and the whole project has been given about 18 months. So end of spring 2023, this should be emptied and ready for renovations. Often these larger specimens won't be seen in the wild, and so the fact that we have them in our collection and have had them in our collection for such a long time, really gives us a responsibility to maintain them. Some are inherently rare. We have the Thyrsopteris, these are from Juan Fernandez Islands. They occur in an extremely, extremely limited natural habitat range. These are extremely rare plants that just are rarely seen in cultivation and are worth conserving so that members of the public, who would probably never see them, will be able to experience them. Any species that we haven't been able to keep going in here, we've collected spores and actually started growing the next generation already. So we'll be in sure supply when it actually comes back to planting them back up again. Some of the larger species, we've taken down to our Temperate Lands, which is a large glasshouse with an extremely high roof. Smaller, understory ferns have been moved to a different decant glasshouse. Some have been taken down to Logan and some are being given to various other gardens. So yeah, we're sort of rehoming as best as we can and keeping as many as we can. The first steps would be to clear any understory plantings, which are growing beneath it. Then we had to remove a lot of large rocks to be able to get in. Once we've had them out the way, we've been physically reducing the canopy of the tree ferns, so that is to reduce transpiration, and therefore reduce stress on the plants by water, sort of coming through the plants leaving. We then relied on a series of cables and winches. We had members of teams from other departments and our team come in with chainsaws. And basically, the whole process was to reduce the amount of stress on the tree ferns and get it lowered down to the ground level, which in itself is a challenge, these are extremely large, and in some cases, quite heavy. And then once they were down, keep them wrapped up with hessian until they were transported to their new location and planted up straightaway. [Richard Baines, Curator of Logan Botanic Garden] We've received some very historically large tree ferns, which are 150 years old, which were growing indoors in Edinburgh, but have now been transplanted and growing outdoors at Logan. Tree ferns, such as Dicksonia antarctica, originate from Tasmania and Australia, and the normal temperatures in Tasmania are warmer than you are in Edinburgh, so if the glasshouses were all cleared, et cetera, they would be killed by normal winter temperatures, here in Edinburgh. Whereas Logan, because we normally get about -2, -3, they're perfectly okay outside. It's quite an operation to actually take them, firstly, out of the ground, you know, to move them, pack them onto trailers, cover them over, so they don't dry out. Cause it's, I dunno, 150 miles, 200 miles to Logan from Edinburgh. And then on arrival, we tried to plant them as soon as possible. They're settling in very well, and actually seeing these plants physically growing outside is a real rarity, not only in Scotland but also in the UK. Hopefully, next spring we'll have newly emerging fronds, which the public can enjoy. And so rather than a plant growing in Edinburgh, unfortunately, having to die because of the cold winter, it can perpetuate its life.
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