Palm tree collection status award

Ventnor’s Botanic Garden’s Arecaceae (palm tree) collection on the Isle of Wight has been awarded National Plant Collection status by Plant Heritage. This unique collection enables a better understanding of how gardens will be impacted by climate change and contains some of the oldest palm trees in the UK, some dating back to the 1860s.

The collection is the island’s sixth National Plant Collection, making England’s largest island a growing hot spot for conserving a wide range of flowering plants and now exotic palm trees which encapsulate summer.

At the inception of the collection in the 1860s, most specimens were considered ‘high risk’ in terms of their hardiness to surviving in the UK’s cooler climate. They were grown in glasshouses but soon perished. At that time only two taxa could survive outside, but results from recent garden trials (which began in 2000) has shown that more types of palm tree can now be successfully grown outdoors at Ventnor. This is a twenty-fold increase on what was previously thought possible and it is believed the palm trees have adapted to a warming climate and unique microclimate found on this part of the Isle of Wight.

Vicki Cooke, Conservation Manager at Plant Heritage says: “Our National Plant Collections, or ‘living plant libraries’, showcase the amazing diversity of the UK’s cultivated plants. Ventnor’s palm trees live in the unique microclimate of the ‘undercliff’ on the Isle of Wight, meaning they’re protected from cold northerly winds by the island’s chalk downs, only receive small amounts of rainfall per year and rarely see frost. Ventnor’s climate is more akin to the Mediterranean, and as a result they’re able to survive – and thrive – outside, rather than in glasshouses.”

Now, the team at Ventnor want to build on their research and test the hardiness of other specimens across the site. It is also hoped this will increase our understanding about how climate is affecting various plants and trees and how gardens might be impacted in the future.

Chris Kidd, Garden Curator at Ventnor Botanic Garden commented: “We are thrilled that our Arecaceae collection now has National Plant Collection status. The collection has a long and interesting history, but it’s the collection’s responsiveness to our changing climate that makes it really special.

It’s fascinating that our palms are helping us to understand climate change, and we hope that further study of our collections will indicate how they might respond to the growing global climate emergency. This could teach us a lot about how warmer temperatures could impact gardens on the Isle of Wight, the UK and beyond, which is quite exciting.”

Chris wonders what the possibilities and wonders of nature, scope and composition of a Palm Garden in the 22nd century might reveal, but what is certain is that it will likely be found at Ventnor Botanic Garden.

Plant Heritage’s 689 National Plant Collections are created, and curated, by individuals or organisations who are passionate about protecting the diversity of the nation’s rich flora. New collections are recognised by Plant Heritage every year, and Ventnor’s new collection is one of 16 others across the country to be accredited this summer.

To find the six collections on the Isle of Wight, and to see if they’re open for Covid-safe visits this summer and autumn, visit: www.plantheritage/org.uk/national-plant-collections

To find out more about the work of Plant Heritage and its collections please visit: www.plantheritage.org.uk

Photo credits: All images strictly ©and credit Ventnor Botanic Gardens.

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