A truly striking flower, Strongylodon macrobotrys, will stop you in your tracks! A rare woody tropical vine scarcely seen in nature with petals of an iridescent turquoise colour. The flowers hang in pendant trusses (pseudoracemes) which can reach up to 3m long and 6cm across. Native to the damp rain forests of the Philippines the vine can grow up to 18m long and has leaves comprised of three leaflets. The seed pods contain 12 seeds and are produced in fleshy pods that reach around 15cm in length. Found in the Leguminosae or Pea family it is pollinated by bats. Sadly deforestation is threatening this species in its native habitat. It is now a rare sight to see this plant species growing in the wild. Fortunately several UK Botanic Gardens have had success growing it and persuading it to flower. This is not an easy species to flower, pollinate and set fertile seed in cultivation. Expert horticulturists mimic bats which would visit the flowers at night to drink nectar through hand pollination. The bats would hang upside down to drink the nectar whilst they do this their head would brush against pollen. As the bats visit other flowers the pollen is transferred onto the female parts of the next flower that the bat visits resulting in pollination. This demonstrates co-evolution and how the bat and plant species have evolved to work together. The woody tropical vine can also be propagated by nodal cuttings.
There is no more uplifting sight than a woodland floor covered with bluebells in Spring. Britain actually has three species of bluebells which grow across the country. Out of the three only one species is native to the country. Our only indigenous bluebell Hycainthoides non scripta is currently under threat. The threats are from hybrid crosses with both its Spanish cousin Hyacinthoides hispanica, commonly seen in gardens, and Hyacinthoides hispanica x non scripta. Gardeners are now being encouraged to avoid planting Spanish or hybrid plants in the countryside or close to a truly native bluebell population. Scientific research is currently being conducted to better understand the intermixing of genes between the species. Our bluebell could be threatened from various factors such as habitat loss, competition from non native species, unsustainable collection and climate change.
Check out Plantlife’s guide to help identify which bluebell species are growing in your garden.
Magnolias are appreciated and admired around the world as an ornamental tree due to their large cup-shaped attractive flowers which cover the whole tree creating a breathtaking display. Despite their beauty and popularity they are under threat. A recent research report published by The Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) concluded that half of all Magnolia species are under threat from extinction in their wild habitat. Reasons include deforestation from commercial logging, habitat loss and climate change. This ancient tree species has survived on earth for a long time living through various global changes but we must act fast now to prevent losing them. One of the most popular garden types, Magnolia stellata, is categorised as endangered. A red list of Magnoliaceae species was conducted by experts which has carried out an assessment of the 304 wild Magnolia species from around the world. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is a globally recognised approach which is used to evaluate the conservation status of plants and animals. This has helped provide information and help analyse status, trends and threats to species. The Red List has been used by scientific institutions and governments around the world to help guide and carry out conservation. The Global Trees Campaign (GTC) is supporting conservation projects in China and the Neotropics where the global hotspots for Magnolia species occurs. It is becoming very important to have Magnolia species growing in gardens, botanic gardens, arboretums and stored in seed banks. These ex situ collections are essential to help safeguard the species in the event of extinction in the wild. The species currently in cultivation in gardens does not represent the number found in the wild. This highlights the need to prevent logging and habitat loss through conservation in wild populations.
A new wave of nature conservation is emerging through designing sustainable and environmentally tuned landscapes. There is a drive to move away from formal high maintenance landscapes to naturalistic ones that are diverse and low maintenance. Today horticulturists and landscape designers are working together to redefine urban spaces to encourage nature in cities. Ideas can be developed for car parks, skyscrapers, roof tops, road verges and suburban gardens. Even though this land has been occupied by man over centuries the space can be redeveloped as an important place for nature to thrive. The loss of natural habitat around the world due to urbanisation and population growth is startling. It is for this very reason that landscape architects, garden designers and horticulturists must look at our cities with fresh eyes. Plantings need to have purpose in a time with unpredictable changes like flooding and drought due to climate change. It is more important than ever to plan for the future harnessing new technology and natural planting. Why can’t we have a meadow growing on skyscraper rooftops, wetland areas that purify clean drinking water, rain gardens and ecologically designed green walls and streets? We need to move forward in the right step to let nature thrive in every fragment of our landscape.
Unlike bumble bees and honey bees solitary bees do not live in a colony. They look similar to the honey bees and occur throughout the UK. Different species nest in different sizes of holes. The female stocks the nesting hole with nectar and pollen and seals it. The new solitary bees start to emerge the following March and April. Bees play an important role in the pollination of flowers and edibles in your garden. Why not install a bee and insect box in your garden? Once they nest in your garden they will return year after year.
Urbanisation in cities over the last twenty years has been explosive and this has led to a disconnection between people and the natural world. Today almost 90% of the population live in urban areas. In the last decade there has been much focus on developing urban greenspaces to create habitats which are species-rich and provide wide-ranging benefits for people, biodiversity and reduce surface and air temperatures. It was found that 48% of people use these greenspaces at least one a week highlighting their importance in people’s lives. Many professionals believe that mental health and obesity issues particularly in the Western world could be reduced through urban greenspace. A large number of local authorities and community groups are now planting or trialling the planting of wildflower meadows in urban greenspace. This planting is driven by a desire to increase biodiversity, educate the urban population about nature and to overcome a decline in the funding available for maintaining greenspace.
In recent years the UK has lost 98% of its natural wildflower meadows and grassland which once covered great areas of the British countryside. This has been a direct result of the intensification of agricultural practices with the increase of fertilisers, pesticides and new machinery. These factors have severely impacted biodiversity and the natural ecosystems in the UK, across Europe and the world. The majority of British hay meadows developed and evolved over hundreds of years of traditional farming methods have been ploughed up and the wildlife and insects that depend on them significantly reduced. People must now act by recreating wildflower biodiverse habitats in the form of restoration, re-sowing and set aside land. Education about these valuable meadows are key in saving both plant, insect and animal species for future generations.