Trees get together for eco-matching

I was delighted when Henrik Sjoman visited Kew.  He is the Curator at Gottenburg Botanical Gardens in Sweden.  He has worked closely with Dr. Andy Hirons, a lecturer and researcher at Myerscough College (the national college for arboriculture) on species selection.  

Henrik and Andy are exploring Eco—Matching, where trees are selected for planting in an ecosystem similar to that which it, or the parent stock, grew in.  Many of the trees being planted in the UK at present have been propagated from tree stock which has been used for decades.  However, as our climate changes, the suitability of the stock for the future is becoming less clear.  In many cases today, recently planted trees are only living for 18-20 years.  We need trees that can live for a century or longer.

Species selection has been based on the horticultural characteristics of the individual tree, such as leaf colour and shape, flowers, bark, height or form.  With each tree at Kew, we have a grid reference of the location where the original specimen was collected.  

There is a tree at Kew which died recently.  The original tree had been planted and propagated but five generations of the tree had died.  The original tree had been collected from a site by a river in China.  That location had an abundance of water.  At Kew, it was in a dry, sandy soil with limited organic matter.  I reflected that it was perhaps little surprise that the tree did not thrive here at Kew.

We often focus on planting native trees in this country, such as the beech, oak, field maple and hornbeam.  However, these trees can also be found across Europe and over to the Caucasus region.   We sometimes think of the oak as being English.  However, it is widely found in France, and the French call it the Common Oak or the French Oak!  

Many trees have been collected from China, Asia, South America (including Mexico) and Chile.  I am keen to explore the trees and shrubs in Azerbajan.  There, the temperature is 7*C higher than at Kew, and there is one-third less rainfall.  If a tree can thrive there, it may be better suited to Kew, as it is today, and in the decades to come.

I am exploring how, working with Henrik and Andy, we can set up trials at Kew to plant trees propagated from trees growing in drier conditions and then monitor how well they grow.

This work is a long-term project.  It will take several years to propagate the trees before we are ready to start field trials.  It may take a decade or longer before we know how well the new trees are growing.  However, Kew is ideal for such a project because its future as a botanical garden, being used for research, is secure.

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