RHS launches largest scale plant collecting exercise to date

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RHS launches largest scale plant collecting exercise to date
  • Charity sets out to map UK’s 400,000 garden plants with help from the public
  • Bid to grow herbarium collection as new state of the art facilities open at RHS Hilltop
  • New plant specimens to sit alongside Darwin’s and enable study and identification

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is embarking on its largest scale plant collecting exercise to date as it sets out to record all 400,000 thought to be growing in UK gardens and in the process discover those never before recorded or which were thought lost to cultivation.

As new state of the art laboratories open today at RHS Hilltop, the home of gardening science within RHS Garden Wisley, the charity has set itself the target of quadrupling the number of plants already in its herbarium – the largest UK herbarium dedicated to ornamental plants – whose oldest specimen dates back to 1731.

The 90,000 already in the collection are specially temperature, humidity and pest controlled within RHS Hilltop. The collection contains notable specimens such as a geranium from the site of the death of Napoleon III’s son, the Prince Imperial, and a wild potato collected by Charles Darwin during the Voyage of the Beagle. As some individual plants are represented by multiple specimens in the collection, the herbarium is still thought to include only 10% of those plants thought to be found in the UK, and a third of those that can be found at RHS Garden Wisley.

The collection is a vital permanent record of the UK’s remarkable horticultural heritage; underpinning the conservation of the unique diversity of the nation’s garden plants by linking to living collections, helping to unravel a plant’s origins and development, and as a resource for future breeding programmes which will increasingly focus on their role in helping to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Plant enthusiasts are in the process of being recruited at RHS Garden Wisley with applications opening at the RHS’ four other gardens in the next year – RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex, RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Yorkshire, RHS Garden Bridgewater in Salford and RHS Garden Rosemoor in Devon. Volunteers will help the herbarium team to select, collect, press, mount and record UK garden flora for the future, from RHS gardens, parks and gardens throughout the country. For more information visit www.rhs.org.uk.

Yvette Harvey, Keeper of the RHS Herbarium, said: “Herbaria are to plants what a register is to a classroom and a timetable is to trains. Records such as these provide an important point of reference for what any given plant is and its uses – such as attraction to pollinators or ability to capture carbon. Mapping these treasures is no mean feat and one we hope the public will be all too keen to help us with.”

RHS Hilltop provides a climate controlled setting for the herbarium to be preserved for the future and increased storage capabilities. It is anticipated that on average 7000 new specimens will be added to the collection each year as the 14 volunteers are recruited. The work of the herbarium team – including its ongoing digitisation and improved accessibility – has been made possible thanks to a £4 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

In addition to the herbarium, RHS Hilltop features a number of interactive exhibits for visitors to enjoy, bio-secure laboratories for the analysis of pests and disease and a home for our 28,000 horticultural books which demonstrate the long association of gardens and gardening in the UK.

For more information visit www.rhs.org.uk


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