This project has now closed. Thank-you to all that supported it. If you still wish to help make the nursery a reality you can donate through the donate buttons at www.blackhalls.co.uk.
Plants clothe us, feed us, cure us and allow us to breathe. They, through capturing the sun's energy, provide the building blocks that provide for all of the Earth's incredible biodiversity. There are around 400,000 plant species in the world and at least 25% are threatened with extinction. If I could click my fingers and save all of the world's threatened plant species I certainly would. Unfortunately I can't.
What I can do though is use the specialist skills I have developed as a plant propagator and my understanding of ecology to make sure at least some of them are safe in cultivation. I can develop the knowledge that will allow others to care for just a few of them in safety away from the threats they face in their native habitats.
I have the skills to help the world's threatened plant life through ex-situ cultivation; I just don’t have the facilities yet.
In October 2015 my partner and I, backed by the relevant authorities, launched an expedition to South Africa's Western Cape in order to find, record and collect seed of plants in the family Proteaceae. Some of the species we found and collected are threatened in their natural habitat and not found in cultivation anywhere in the world. Little is known about how to grow some of them too. The resulting plants will be grown and monitored at the nursery site and at some satellite sites in order to better understand their needs. We will be publishing an annual report on this project, for the next five years, which will be submitted to CapeNature (the organisation responsible for biodiversity conservation in the Western Cape of South Africa), the RHS and the wardens in the reserves in which we worked. More about the project in South Africa can be found here
In the mist with Leucadendron strobalinum on Table Mountain
In 2014 I was honoured to visit many of the seriously threatened populations of Oncocyclus Iris growing in Israel. They are deemed 'difficult' in cultivation but I have been trusted with seed, of known wild origin, of many of these iconic ‘Royal Irises'. I am lucky to have the opportunity to grow plants like this and really wish to give them the best possible care. Working with organisations around the world I hope to build on conservation projects such as those caring for the Middle Eastern 'Royal Iris' and provide valuable back up and information that will assist in their conservation both in the wild and in cultivation both now and into the future. You can find out more about our trips here
I may not be able to work with the entire world's threatened plants, there are far too many in need of help for one pair of hands, but I can assist just a few.
So I am looking to fund the facilities I need to grow, and study the horticultural requirements of, these and other threatened plants. I have found, and secured, the land for a small nursery so now I just need to put in the infrastructure; a poly-tunnel, raised beds, rabbit proof fencing and other simple yet necessary items.
The nursery will also enable me to grow and sell more common plants to fund this ex-situ conservation work into the future and to raise money for partner organisations conserving the threatened species I work with in their natural habitats.
The nursery site currently looks like this but it wont take too much to lick it into shape
The type of poly-tunnel/greenhouse required to grow these plants successfully
Just a couple of the plants we will be working with.....
Seeds fascinate me; tiny little packages that hold incredible potential.
To think that something just a few millimetres across can produce, eventually, some of the largest organisms on earth. Tiny little embryos, often with just enough nutrition to give them a kick start attached, in their time capsules waiting for the perfect set of circumstances for them to grow and have at least a fighting chance of achieving their goal of making more seed and continuing their species.
Some, however, need such a unique set of circumstances that, should something go wrong in the environment in which they live, they may never get that chance to reach their potential. That’s the case with many members of the Proteaceae.
Meet Mimetes pauciflorus whose seeds are distributed by ants, a process known as Myrmecochory. The seed can remain dormant in the ground for many years waiting for a suitably hot fire to pass through and break this dormancy. In fact one of its relatives, Mimetes stokoei, has been declared extinct twice, as no living plant could be found, only to rise out of the ashes of a fynbos fire phoenix like.
On our recent expedition to high altitude areas of South Africa’s Western Cape Province Mimetes pauciflorus was one of the species we most wanted to observe in the wild in order to study its natural environment and collect seed. Not previously cultivated and little known in their native habitat. These plants are increasingly subject to the pressures of climate change, the increased risk of insufficiently hot fire and reduced rainfall that climate change brings with it. All this alongside a non-native, invasive, species of ant from Argentina that doesn’t bury seed properly and Phytopthora and these plants are destined for disaster.
Mimetes pauciflous is currently considered Vulnerable in the wild. Not yet endangered but at risk should one of the many pressures become a greater issue. Coming from higher, cooler mountain areas it doesn’t enjoy the warmth of the low altitude, warm gardens in South Africa so I wish to understand how to grow Mimetes pauciflorus here in North Wales in an environment similar to its natural one.
The first step is getting the seed to germinate and that may take years.
Help me to set up a nursery that will allow me to find out Mimetes pauciflorus’ secrets and get that seed, with all of its potential, to grow.
Find out more about the threats faced by Mimetes pauciflorus at http://redlist.sanbi.org/species.php?species=804-15
Spatalla nubicola, the Medusa spoon, is one of the species of South African Proteaceae we will be working with. We collected seed of this plant from a very steep slope on the top of a mountain called Grootberg (Great Mountain). There are only 2 populations of this plant known to exist and, as far as we are aware, it has never been cultivated before. The weather conditions at 1600m on Grootberg are very similar to those found here in North Wales so there maybe a good chance of success growing the Medusa spoon here.
The steep slopes where we found Spatalla nubicola growing.
Iris mariae grows on the border between Israel and Egypt and is threatened by illegal harvesting, climate change, urbanisation and the impacts of modern agriculture. It’s desert habitat is little like that of North Wales but even so we have grown a plant of it here for a number of years. As well as increasing the population of Iris mariae in cultivation we hope to raise funds for wild Iris conservation and reduce the pressure on the wild populations of this plant from over harvesting by growing and supplying, legally sourced and grown, plants of Oncocyclus and other Iris species. Conservation through cultivation could be a future lifeline for this plant.
Iris mariae in cultivation in Israel