Kew scientists successfully collect a beautiful plant that grows only in the remote mountains of North Lebanon
After several failed attempts over the years, Kew scientists celebrate their success in collecting the Helichrysum plicatum plant of North Lebanon.
Helichrysum plicatum is one of many species that are appreciated by people for their beauty. Not so many people know the location of its growth - only the shepherds and some others living in the surrounding area.
Helichrysum plicatum is a member of the Compositae family and around 30 cm tall, with a globular yellow head. This head lasts long enough on the plant before shattering so that it can be collected before seed development takes place. For that reason, it is called 'Everlasting' in English, 'Immortelle' in French and 'Khalidah' in Arabic.
The generic name is derived from Greek helios (sun), and khrusos (gold), making allusion to the form and colour of the head. It is not found everywhere in Lebanon; it grows only in the high mountains at around 2000 m altitude, in the cedar forests near Bcharreh in North Lebanon.
This species is endangered. Almost 90% of the plants are cut every year, arranged in small bunches and sold to tourists and to collectors of ornamental plants along the main road to the cedar (Cedrus libani) trees.
For three years Simon Khairallah and Joêlle Breidi from LARI, and Michiel van Slageren, an International Co-ordinator at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership, made many attempts to collect this plant in the cedar forests, encountering difficulties in walking between rocks and climbing the mountains, but they were unsuccessful.
It was finally in September 2006, during a collecting mission to a cedar forest near Bcharreh, that Simon and Joêlle discovered a small, forgotten spot where the golden yellow head of Helichrysum plicatum plants appeared beneath the cedar trees.
We were very happy to have made a good collection of seeds and voucher herbarium specimens. This event was a real success, after the challenges we had faced - finally collecting Helichrysum plicatum after so many years.
Authors: Simon Khairallah and Joêlle Breidi, Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, Tal Amara, Lebanon