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Irish heritage plant group awarded National Plant Collection status

The rare Iris unguicularis 'Kilbroney Marble'. Credit Paddy Tobin/Irish Garden Plant Society

Collection celebrates Ireland’s rich horticultural heritage and aims to conserve all garden plants with an Irish connection

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Horticulture

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21 October 2021 | 0

A group of over 1,000 plants that have either been bred, collected, or named after Irish horticulturalists and/or historic plant explorers has been awarded National Plant Collection status by UK horticultural conservation charity Plant Heritage.

Found in 75 different locations in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the newly accredited Irish Heritage Plants National Plant Collection celebrates Ireland’s rich horticultural heritage and aims to conserve all garden plants with an Irish connection.

Every plant has a link to Ireland, and must fall within one of the following categories:

  • Found or introduced by an Irish plantsman and/or collector, such as Augustine Henry
  • Bred or found in an Irish nursery, such as Ravensberg Nursery in Co. Offaly
  • Bred or found in an Irish garden, like the National Trust’s Rowallane Garden in Northern Ireland
  • Named for or by an Irish gardener
  • Grown – or perhaps first flowered – in Ireland

Some plants within the collection are very common, like the Irish yew – a plant known to almost every gardener – whereas others, like Iris ‘Kilbroney Marble’ are exceedingly scarce, with only one listed supplier. Many others are now only found in members’ gardens, and sometimes are the only one recorded of their kind.

“National Plant Collections are living libraries, and are the key to preventing plants that have fallen out of fashion and are no longer commercially available from being lost forever,” said Vicki Cooke, conservation manager at Plant Heritage. “The Irish Garden Plant Society’s huge collection is a phenomenal celebration of Irish horticultural history and demonstrates how important it is that our garden plants are researched, hunted down and looked after by passionate and knowledgeable Collection Holders.”

Stephen Butler, Heritage Plants Coordinator at the Irish Garden Plant Society said: “One of the plants in our collection, Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ was presumed extinct, but excitingly it was rediscovered in the late 1990s by one of our members. Now, I’m delighted to say it has been spread across several gardens, and while it’s still not commercially available, it is no longer at risk of becoming extinct, which is fantastic.”

The Irish Garden Plant Society manages this new collection, which is 40 years in the making. The collection is based on work by Dr Charles Nelson, a horticultural taxonomist who helped form the society in 1981. The Irish Garden Plant Society published A Heritage of Beauty – The Garden Plants of Ireland after 20 years of research by Nelson in 2000. This encyclopaedia lists over 5,300 plants with an Irish connection, and while many are no longer in existence, Irish Garden Plant Society members have helped keep many alive over the past 40 years, which now form this newly accredited National Plant Collection.

Since A Heritage of Beauty – The Garden Plants of Ireland was published, over 100 cultivars with an Irish connection have been named and added to a database maintained by the Irish Garden Plant Society. This list comprises thousands of plants linked to Ireland, with all records maintained so that if any details about any plant (such as origin or date of introduction) is required, it is all in one place.

Dr Mary Forrest, Chair of the Irish Garden Plant Society added: “We have been committed to conserving Ireland’s horticultural heritage for over 40 years, and the society is very honoured to have now been awarded National Plant Collection status by Plant Heritage. It is recognition of the value of the work of the society, the original research by Dr Charles Nelson and the past – and ongoing – hard work by all of our society members.”

Plant Heritage’s 695 National Plant Collections are created, and curated, by individuals or organisations (including Dublin Zoo which is home to the National Plant Collection of Libertia) all over the Republic of Ireland and the UK who are passionate about protecting the diversity of plants. These collections comprise a variety of plant groups from conifers to cacti, come in all sizes from miniature orchids to mighty oaks, and contain a staggering 95,000+ garden plants.

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