Ventnor Botanic Gardens palm tree collection - awarded National Plant Collection status
3rd September, 2021
Horticultural conservation charity Plant Heritage has awarded Ventnor Botanic Garden’s Arecaceae (palm tree) collection with National Plant Collection status. Some of the oldest palm trees in the UK form this newly accredited collection, including some that were planted in 1860s.
The collection, which is based outside Ventnor on the southern tip the Isle of Wight, is the island’s sixth National Plant Collection, making England’s largest island a growing hotspot for conserving a wide range of flowering plants and now exotic palm trees which encapsulate summer.
Ventnor Botanic Garden’s palm tree collection began in the 1860s when 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. In the 1800s only two taxa could survive outside, but results from recent garden trials (which began in 2000) have shown that more types of palm tree can now be successfully grown outdoors at Ventnor, a twenty-fold increase on what was previously thought. It is believed the palm trees have adapted to a warming climate and the unique microclimate found on this part of the Isle of Wight.
Now, the team at Ventnor want to build on this and test the hardiness of other specimens across the site. It is hoped this will increase current understanding about how climate change is affecting various plants and trees, and how gardens might be impacted in the future.
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.”
Chris Kidd, Garden Curator at Ventnor Botanic Garden says: “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.”
“The possibilities of what could grow here in the future are tantalising, perhaps scandalous. One wonders the nature, scope and composition of a Palm Garden in the 22nd century, but what is certain is that it will be found here 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.