Jo Wenham, Plant Propagation and Conservation Unit Manager at Wakehurst, considers the highs and lows of fieldwork.
Jo Wenham recently took part in a 14-day seed collecting trip in the Calabrian region of Italy.
The aim of her journey was collect seed from trees, shrubs and herbaceous throughout southern Italy, to grow in the Living collections at Wakehurst. Some of the seed collected will also be conserved in the Millennium Seed Bank.
Jo’s travel companions for the expedition were Mark Ballard, Penny Jones and Dan Crowley all from Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire.
After flying into Naples the first focus was the stunning Aspremonte national park in Reggio Calabria. Species collected included Pinus nigra subsp laricio, Acer apalus subsp obtusatum, Carpinus betulus, Cistus monspelensis, Platanus orientalis, Quercus suber and Q. ilex.
After the first week the team had made 45 herbarium and seed collections, 10 of which will be conserved in the Millennium Seed Bank for long term conservation. Others will be grown in the nurseries at Wakehurst, Westonbirt and other gardens that form part of the UKBGAC (UK Botanic Gardens Collections Consortium). This group aims to combine skills, knowledge and resources to collect, store and grow temperate trees from across the world.
Maples were a high priority target species and the team located the very rare Acer lobelii, unfortunately with no seed. This species has very little data recorded, so coordinates and herbarium samples were taken from the populations found by the team.
The team then travelled north to Mormanno, the base for collecting around Pollino National Park. They were all totally in awe of the stunning scenery and the warm hospitality they experienced from the staff at the park as well as everyone they met along their way.
The following morning they climbed Monte Pollino which is 2,248 metres high, in an attempt to find the Pinus heldreichii var. leucodermis or the Bosnian pine. Pollino holds the only populations of this Pine found in Italy. After 5 hours of hiking up mountain tracks filled with Beech forest and some open glades Jo and her team had to admit defeat as they could not locate the elusive pines.
The next day the team travelled to Basilica to try and locate and document a population of Acer lobelii. They found 30 trees in a steep valley with a stream running through the centre. Jo carefully collected herbarium samples from various trees showing variations in their leaf hairs.
After receiving some inside information the team tried again in their attempt to find the mysterious Bosnian pine. They were told by partners in the country of a population near the Piani del Pollino so they set their GPS to guide them to the area where they had been spotted. This entailed a short walk through beech forest an open river bed and glade then a steep march up uneven tracks for nearly three hours.
The team followed the hiking trails marked with red and white flags for an hour until they reached a huge plateaux. In the far distance they could see pines clinging to the rocks.
They knew they had struck gold! After a long hike Jo and her companions finally reached their goal.
'We were absolutely ecstatic when we discovered that the pines had seeds. We had to collect the cones quickly as we knew we had to get back to our base before sunset. We collected three bags of the cones. Our journey back seemed far shorter as we were so pleased to have succeeded in our mission.'
The next day team collected near Orsomorso finding Acer monspessulanum (Montpellier maple) and Carpinus orientalis (oriental hornbeam) as well as many oaks, Quercus Ilex and Q.suber (Cork oak).
One of the many highlights of the trip was Jo's visit to a forest of mixed maples. There were six species present and some of the trees were huge including one of the biggest Alders Jo had ever seen. During this trip the team were lucky enough to collect a Tilla along the way.
Jo and her team spent many evenings during the trip pressing specimens and triple wrapping seed to send back to the UK. They collected 60 in total with 16 for the Millennium Seed Bank.
Summarising her thoughts on the Italian collection trip Jo said: 'We will plant the seeds in our nursery and visitors to our gardens will be able to see them in the Wakehurst grounds in about four years.'
After Jo's return, the rest of the group from Westonbirt continued to the Lake Garda and the Lombardy regions to collect more seed and plant material. Their final total collection was 76.
- Jo -