Follow two members of Kew's UK Overseas Territories Team as they collect and propagate native plants for the islands' Botanic Garden.
At the end of August 2010, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in the Caribbean faced the force of Hurricane Earl, with wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Among the many places in BVI suffering damage was the J.R.O’Neal Botanic Garden, located on the island of Tortola. To support the redevelopment of the Garden, Martin Hamilton from Kew's UK Overseas Territories Team (UKOTs) and Michele Sanchez from the Horticulture Department spent a fortnight working with colleagues from the BVI National Parks Trust (BVINPT), assisting in planning and in collecting new plants for display and conservation.
Kew’s UKOTs team has a long-standing working relationship with the BVINPT, having carried out botanical surveys for conservation projects on Virgin Gorda and Anegada. On a previous visit to BVI in 2005, Martin and Michele helped to establish some of the islands’ unique and threatened plant species in cultivation, and to develop suitable facilities for plant propagation. On this visit, they were saddened to find that the shade house, where plants can be grown with some protection from the fierce sun, had been one of the casualties of the hurricane.
Collecting cuttings for propagation
One of the priorities of this trip was to survey the garden and plant collections to find out which trees needed felling as a result of hurricane damage or disease, and to create a map showing the location of specimens. This map provided a basis for discussion with staff from BVINPT about future developments in the Garden, to maximise its potential for native species conservation and as a tourist attraction.
Another goal was to augment the Garden’s collection of native plants, by collecting wild plant material from various islands and propagating it. Together with Marcus Garvey, Head Gardener at the J.R.O’Neal Botanic Garden, and other members of BVINPT staff, Martin and Michele visited areas of natural vegetation on Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Anegada. In some places, where road-building was underway, they were able to rescue seedlings and epiphytes (plants that rely on host trees for support) which had been displaced. They also collected seeds and cuttings from several of the islands’ unique species. Some species, including Pisonia subcordata and Cordia rupicola, had been particularly fruitful in 2011, possibly due to the heavy rainfall associated with the 2010 hurricane or to the resulting vegetation disturbance which suited their growth patterns.
Sowing dust-like orchid seeds onto coconut fibre
Back at the Garden, Michele worked with Marcus and, amongst other members of the horticultural staff, the nursery supervisor Arona DeWindt, sowing seeds, preparing cuttings, planting seedlings and arranging epiphytes on bark. She demonstrated various techniques used in Kew’s nurseries to maximise the plants’ chances of germinating or rooting. For orchid seeds, which sometimes need specialised germination conditions, she initiated a trial using strips of coconut fibre and other readily available local materials. Seeds and some of the cuttings, which were carefully prepared for air-travel, were sent back to Kew, so do keep an eye on this blog for news of these plants!
Watch the video that Martin produced showing some of the areas they visited and their plant collecting and propagation activities.
- Martin -
UKOTs bloggers (left to right): Sara Bárrios, Pat Griggs, Colin Clubbe, Marcella Corcoran, Tom Heller, Martin Hamilton.
Using modern plant specimens collected in the field and historic specimens held in Kew’s Herbarium, together with detailed habitat descriptions and other field information, we are documenting the plant diversity of the UKOTs. We are making this information accessible via the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This resource, together with the field research, enables us to undertake conservation assessments, produce Red Lists of threatened species, and rank potentially invasive species – all of which underpin the development of management plans to protect the UKOTs’ plant heritage.
The UKOTs bloggers are:
- Colin Clubbe (Head of UKOTs and Conservation Training)
- Martin Hamilton (UKOTs Programme Co-ordinator)
- Marcella Corcoran (UKOTs Programme Officer – Horticultural Liaison)
- Sara Bárrios (UKOTs Programme Officer – GSPC Targets 1&2 OTEP Project)
- Pat Griggs (UKOTs Public Engagement Officer)
- Tom Heller (UKOTs Millennium Seed Bank Officer)
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