Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Something (sort of) New to Look Out For

Visitors to Westonbirt may not yet be familiar with Taiwania cryptomerioides growing with us – in recent years there was a specimen growing close to the Forestry Commission offices but this succumbed following a combination of cold winters and dry springs, having been planted in thin soil in this area.

Now two young examples have been added to the collection. One of these is from wild sourced seed collected in 1993 by the Taiwan Forest Research Institute, which found its way to us via our colleagues at Bedgebury, whilst the other was a gift from Trellisick Garden in Cornwall.

One of the new specimens in the collection

Taiwania cryptomerioides is a monotypic conifer in the Cupressaceae, having previously been included in the now defunct Taxodiaceae.  Whilst it bears some resemblance to a number of other genera in its family (its specific epithet denotes the likeness of the juvenile foliage to the mature foliage of Cryptomeria japonica), DNA studies have illustrated that it is closely related to none. Consequently it sits alone as sole member of the subfamily Taiwanioideae.

Juvenile foliage of T. cryptomerioides

The species is native to the mountains of central Taiwan, parts of China and neighbouring Myanmar and a recently discovered (and Critically Endangered) population in northern Vietnam. The Taiwanese trees have been thought of by some to be a distinct species (T. flousiana) but authorities state that close comparison of these trees with those of mainland China reveal no consistent differences in morphology. In its native range it attains heights of 60 metres and is aptly described by some as the ‘Asian redwood’. It has attained far more modest sizes in cultivation in Britain so far but is undoubtedly one to look out for!

Although having been introduced to Britain in 1920, the records show only one specimen having been planted at Westonbirt until the aforementioned deceased specimen in 1997. This first planting was in 1941 in the area now known as Savill Glade and although we have no date of it being removed, it definitely isn’t there now! What can be said about the recently lost specimen is that it attained a respectable size in the 15 years it was growing with us so we are hopeful that the new additions will make an impact (and last quite a bit longer than that!). They are located on moist soils in the Old Arboretum on Specimen Avenue – a ride dominated by conifers, so they should fit right in! 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A Visit to Stone Lane Gardens

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending the day at Stone Lane Gardens in Devon, holder of Plant Heritage National Collections of Betula and Alnus. My focus of the day was on the birches, with this being a genus we are currently working on at Westonbirt.

I spent the day with the Garden Manager, Paul Bartlett, who generously shared both his time and knowledge, allowing me to benefit hugely from time spent at the garden.

For those that aren’t familiar with Stone Lane, the garden was created by the late Kenneth Ashburner, with wild sourced birch and alder from across the temperate world. Located on the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park at 800 feet above sea level, it presents more challenging growing conditions than areas in the south of the county! Further information on the garden can be found here.

I was also pleased to pick up a copy of the long awaited monograph on Betula, by Kenneth Asburner and Hugh McAllister, which will provide much reading pleasure for some time, for sure!! 

Below are a few photos taken on the day – only a few, as much time was spent taking notes, rather than photos!

Paul propagates many of the birches in the garden by wrapping the female catkins,
then adding the males once they are ready, to avoid cross pollination. 
He assures me this is much trickier than it sounds!

The nursery at Stone Lane, offerering a fine selection.

Male and female catkins of B. megrelica, a rarity from a single mountain in Georgia. 

Some attractive barks (B. albosinensis in the foreground, B. ermanii 'Grayswood Hill' behind), 
contrasted with lush early season green growth from those and neighbouring plants.

Friday, 10 May 2013

A Dendrologist at Westonbirt

I have been given the exciting opportunity to work in a unique role here at Westonbirt, where a major part of my role shall be co-ordinating and undertaking a verification project of the collection, in order to improve the standard of curation. This important task will fulfil an objective outlined in the Arboretum’s 5 year strategy and further inform us in our decision making in the management of the collection.   

I shall endeavour to provide updates of the project here, whilst also highlighting trees and plants of particular interest growing with us at both Westonbirt and further afield.