Kew Guild

1990, Tim Upson, Limbe Botanic Garden, Cameroon

The Limbe Botanic Garden and Rainforest Conservation Project – mangrove swamps to alpine senecio’s

By Tim Upson

Standing on the sea front in the town of Limbe in South West Cameroon, the aroma of freshly caught fish fills the air, along with the shouts of the fishermen trying to persuade the ‘rich’ white man he has the best fish in town and to part with an exorbitantly large amount of money. However, nothing can detract from the view as you look out to a peninsula covered in rainforest, the emergent trees silhouetted against the skyline. islands are dotted about in the bay, these being dwarfed by the mighty peak of Fernando Po, an almost perfect volcanic cone rising to 3,090 m, 60 miles out into the Bight of Biafra.

One of the main attractions in town is the Botanic Gardens, founded by the Germans in 1892 and shortly to celebrate its centenary. Originally planted to grow and trial new economic plants it is now the centre of a joint project between the British Overseas Development Administration and the Cameroon Government, with the R.B.G. Kew providing technical assistance. This is not the first time Kew has been involved with the Gardens. It was visited by the Director, Sir Arthur Hill, in 1920 who was impressed by the remains of the German garden. This led to the appointment of a Kew officer, T, D. Maitland, as Superintendent. Following a period of neglect another Kew trained officer, J. T. Swarbrick, was appointed in the 1950s and revived the garden, developing a collection of tropical fruit species.

Around Limbe grows rich Lowland Rainforest, in parts degraded, but still with significant areas in a pristine condition. Along the coast are large tracts of Mangrove swamps, but behind the town rises Mt. Cameroon, the highest mountain in West Africa at 4,090 m. It is unique as it offers an unbroken altitudinal profile of lowland rainforest into montane forest and beyond into savanna grassland and finally afromontane communities, characterised by alpine Senecios. There are 45 endemic species of plants and animals recorded from its slopes. This site is seen as being so biologically important that it is proposed as a World Heritage Site.

These very different habitats are to be conserved by two reserves and along with the garden constitute the main core of the project. importantly this is one of the few projects that puts into practice what many people have been saying for too long – the botanic gardens are ideally placed to play an important ro1e in conservation, particularly in the tropics.

The Gardens
At present the gardens cover an area of 46 hectares, situated on the coast overlooking the Bight of Biafra. The gardens are intended to fulfil several important roles; science, amenity, education and conservation. It will be the public face of the project and abase for visiting scientists.

The western half is dominated by an old volcanic core, Bota Hill Its seaward side is protected by a sea wall offering superb views out into the bay and surrounding headlands. The planting theme will be entirely of Cameroon plants, grown in their natural habitats. Plantings will include Lowland Rainforest, Gallery Forest, Swamp Forest and the creation of a lava flow habitat. The Black Mangrove, Avicennia nitida, has already established itself behind a breach in the sea wall, with its own community of crabs and mud skippers.

The Western half of the gardens consists of an area of flat lawn planted with many palms and trees and a smaller hill called the SDO’s Hill. A fine German colonial house situated on top of

the hill, offers views over the town of Limbe. The hill will be planted with educational displays to show such things as economic plants and animal/plant interactions. A display of Banana’s and Plantains has recently been planted to show genetic diversity within this group. The lawns will each have a theme planting such as a Pan-African Palm collection, exotic fruit species, medicinal plants and amenity plantings of ornamental species.

One of the main features of the garden is a large open air amphitheatre called the Jungle Village, used to hold cultural events. The highlight this year was the visit of the Prince of Wales, the arena being filled with people and traditional dancing taking place in the centre – a truly spectacular site. Offices including a herbarium are situated in the centre of the gardens. The River Limbe, which runs along the northern boundary, offers a superb focal point and occasionally Mt. Cameroon can be seen peering through the clouds.

Much work has now been completed in clearing previously overgrown areas and erecting a fence to secure new plantings. Many of the workers are good farmers but training in many aspects of horticultural practice is required, a role in which I was able to help. Training included planting techniques, plant record keeping and chainsaw use. Many plants were propagated this year for planting new features and this offered a good opportunity to teach new propagation methods. Traditionally cuttings were typically taken from woody stems and branches which could be several inches thick. On introducing the softwood cutting they swore they “would never germinate”. After correcting them on this we ran a trial from which I eventually won several beers!

The Reserves
From a scientific and conservation view the reserves are the most important part of the project. The Etinde Reserve covers about one third of Mt. Cameroon, an area of over 300 sq. km, from the summit of Fako peak at 4,095 metres down to the 200 metre contour. Included in the reserve is Cape Debundscha, the second wettest place on earth, with an annual rainfall between 12 and 15 metres’ Visiting this place is like having a shower and bath at the same time. Unique plant communities can also be found on some of the lava flows that run down the mountain, the reserve encompassing the 1928 and 1982 flows. The summit of the mountain is a desolate place of volcanic lava covered only in mosses and lichens, but just occasionally green patches occur where steam still vents.

The reserve takes its name from an old volcanic core, Mt. Etinde, which rises to a height of 1,713 metres on the western slope of Mt. Cameroon. It also offers one of the most interesting walks in the reserves. Chimpanzees can often be heard as you climb and scramble along a hunters trail that leads to the summit. Thickets of Cyathea manniana make spectacular sights while the bright orange flowers of Scadoxus cinnabarinus brighten the dark forest floor. Impatiens, of which there are numerous species, are common, some of which we now hope to cultivate as ornamentals in the garden. Caulifery is very common in the tropics and perhaps one of the most unusual examples is Omphalocarpum elatum in the Sapotaceae. Fascicles of flowers are borne all the way up its trunk (which can be 30 metres high) and are followed by flat circular fruits 30 em in diameter which clothe the trunk giving it a most bizarre appearance. The rind of the fruit is extremely hard being impregnated with silica. I was able to get numerous sparks when trying to open a fruit with a machete.

Near the summit you enter an enchanted forest of dwarfed trees clothed in ferns and great cushions of mosses and lichens. Amongst the moss can be found exquisite epiphytes such as the tiny Utricularia mannii with yellow flowers and the rare Impatiens grandisepala. This is a tuberous species surviving the dry season buried in the moss, emerging during the rains to flower and fruit. On reaching the summit it is traditional to perform a libation with the local guides. This is a form of communion with their ancestor. You are obliged to bring a spirit of some sort, a drop of which is poured over a stone and the rest passed around everyone. We took gin on this occasion – but forgot the tonic’

To the south of Limbe lies the Mabeta-Moliwe Reserve sandwiched between oil palm and rubber plantations. Although it has been logged over it still contains some areas of pristine forest including Mangrove and Pandanus swamp. One of the few emergent trees to have survived the loggers is Lophira alata, the Ironwood. Fortunately the extremely hard wood proves too much for most chainsaws. The other emergent tree to survive is Ceiba pentandra, the Kapok, partly because its wood is not valued but mainly because they believe the tree contains the spirits of dead people.

It is hoped that the forest can be enriched by replanting with economic timber and fruit species, which would also act as a living gene bank. Already several nurseries have been established to grow the necessary plants to do this.

This project is unique and exciting in both its inception and situation in an area of global importance. To fulfil its great potential it both needs and deserves the support of such institutions as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


1990, Terry Sunderland, Study Tour, North American Botanic Gardens

The Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden

By Terry C. H. Sunderland

During the months of June and July of last summer I had the good fortune to undertake a period of study at the above Institution followed by a hectic study tour of the United States. I also had the fortuity to be eligible for an air pass (for a price equivalent to one internal flight) that allowed unlimited stand-by air travel during my stay. Hence, not only did I visit and study at the I.E.B. but also Harvard Botany Libraries, the Gray Herbarium, Missouri Botanical Garden and Space Biosphere Ventures in Arizona, Arnold Arboretum, the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum and Gardens, Mount Washington National Park in New Hampshire, the Saguaro National Monument, the Desert Museum and the Grand Canyon National Park (the last three being in Arizona). In all I visited 15 cities on 20 flights and clocked up 50,000 air miles in the process’

The stimulus for this trip stemmed from participation on an Operation Raleigh expedition to Panama in 1988 where I was fortunate enough to be involved in a project studying the ethnobotany of the Guyami Indians, anthropologically one of the most stable tribal groups in Latin America. It was the first time I had travelled to the tropics and to witness on one hand one of the most botanically rich environments in the world and the interaction of the indigenous population within it, and on the other, the vast tracts of land that were being “developed” and subsequently denuded seemed an inherent and moral paradox. The illogical nature of tropical deforestation and species destruction ran in complete contrast to the Guyami attitude to their environment; that it is not an infinite source of economic exploitation but a potentially finite resource to be revered, treated with respect and care, and in the case of the Guyami, even worshipped. Thus I have become very interested indeed in the conservation of the tropical forests and in particular studying and identifying alternatives to deforestation; that is, sustainable economic development.

Much of the present-day research and study into tropical forest dynamics and conservation biology is being undertaken in the United States and it was the aim of this tour to visit and study at the I.E.B. and the other major tropical research institutions, gathering information both for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; reporting on the methods, strategy and practicalities of tropical research, and for myself; researching further into the Guyami ethnobotany and gathering information for two papers for submission for the Kew Diploma.

The I.E.B. was founded in 1981 by Professor Ghillean Prance who subsequently became its first Director. Initially set up in response to meet the critical nutritional and energy needs of an expanding population by identifying new forms of food and fuel, the I.E.B. has broadened its sphere of research and through its aim to find botanical solutions to human problems, it has led to the concentration of its studies towards the relatively new science of ethnobotany (the study of indigenous peoples uses of plants). However, emphasis is given to those plants and peoples predominating in the tropics, as these areas are currently at the most risk from denudation, where 70% of all plant species originate and where the potential for greater botanical discovery is enormous. The Institute’s study focuses mainly on the Neotropics concentrating mainly on Amazonian plant resources. Scientists at the Institute concentrate their research efforts in four principle areas; food, energy, medicine and conservation.

Food: with over 90% of the world’s nutrition coming from fewer than 20 major crop species, this lack of genetic diversity and variability means that the world’s food supply is highly vulnerable to disease, blight and drought. Thus the Institute seeks to identify and increase the stock of plants available as sources of nutrition. For example, Dr. Steven King in his doctoral dissertation, identified two Andean tuber crops particularly high in starch; Oca (Oxalis tuberosa L.) and Tropeaolum tuberosum L. Both plants are currently being field-trialled in Peru, under the auspices of the I.E.B. and show considerable promise for possible widespread cultivation. Field trials are also occurring in North America and Europe, including the Henry Doubleday Research Association in England.

Energy: with many sources of fossil fuels likely to be depleted by the middle of the next century, the Institute is trying to identify plants that can provide renewable energy substitutes and to develop their potential.

Medicine: nearly half of all prescription drugs used in the West originate in plants. However, with the destruction of natural habitats, numerous species already utilised for medicinal purposes by local cultures are fast disappearing. We may each day be losing a potential cure for cancer or even AIDS with each plant that becomes extinct. The I.E.B., through its study of ethnobotany, is trying to locate and study tropical plants as sources of new medicines.

Conservation: because of the accelerating destruction of tropical forests, it is essential to establish a balance between conservation and utilisation of natural ecosystems to preserve biological diversity. This is arguably the most important ro1e of any conservation-minded organisation; to investigate the use and management of local plant resources, to preserve germplasm of the plant species it studies and to use the data for the conservation of natural ecosystems is the culmination of all previous study and surely the primary goal of tropical conservation. This also must be the most difficult aspect of conservation management and is possibly why (arguably) tropical conservation is not really proving effective to date on a practical level. The political and social barriers to such conservation efforts seem to be enormous and to persuade governments to adopt western conservation plans must be an awesome task, though one which, I am sure, the I.E.B. is taking in hand.

The I.E.B. does not solely concentrate on identifying plants and cataloguing their uses. For example. Dr. Christine Padoch, an anthropologist whose research on economically promising fruit species is based in the Peruvian Amazon, has also studied the ecology, production. uses, propagation and marketing of these fruits; an important aspect if conservation study is to mean anything at all. This proves that an inter-disciplinary organisation such as the I.E.B. is essential if botanical research is to lose its highly esoteric and perhaps outdated image and to be able to provide suitable and feasible alternatives to destruction. For any kind of sustainable development management plans to occur at all in the tropics, ecologists, botanists, anthropologists, sociologists and economists must all work together, otherwise all the valuable field research undertaken will remain in journals, periodicals and lengthy monographs of no practical use whatsoever. I believe that this is what makes the I.E.B. so unique and enables It, as an organisation to utilise its field work in a practical manner. To be able to walk through the offices and talk, not only to botanists and ecologists, but to hear the anthropologists point of view was truly enlightening. Many scientists have been criticised for their rather unhelpful attitude toward students, yet in New York, most of the office doors were open, the scientists were more than keen to discuss their work and did not mind the intrusions and intellectually mediocre questioning of an ill-informed, yet keen, student.

The funding of a particular scientist’s research is not, as is the case at Kew, based upon a salaried, permanent post. Each scientist has to rely upon grants and fundings allotted to his or her particular field of research, i.e. the scientist has to raise his/her own funding for periods of study and to make provision for his/her own salary. As an example, one research associate told me that he sometimes spent as much time writing application letters for funding as he did writing up research results. This obviously is the result of differences in funding (Kew is, in the main, Civil Service funded, whilst the I.E.B. receives no direct Government funding and relies upon bequests and grants) and due to this the scientists at the I.E.B. are very dedicated indeed. Access to all facilities is 24 hours and the facilities are used 24 hours. It did seem that each scientist had a very high turnover of work and this shows in the publication success of the Institute. Although this kind of funding process is no doubt difficult and in many ways frugal, it does allow for greater flexibility of study. For example, I was told that if a scientist wished to undertake a project overseas for a period of time and could raise the adequate finances, then it would be possible to undertake the research as long as it was beneficial to the Institute. Very few requests of this type were refused. Although, as anywhere, the I.E.B. did not have as much financial backing as it would like, the morale of the Institute as a whole seemed very high and each person working there was very excited about the work being undertaken.

Many of the scientists are visiting lecturers to Universities and Colleges e.g. Yale, CUNY and the Institute runs a Doctoral programme in Economic Botany and Systematic Botany in collaboration with Lehman College, CUNY. Also the scientists are involved with other conservation organisations and are present on steering groups and other consultative panels.

As is probably evident, I thoroughly enjoyed my three weeks at the Institute. I managed to complete a lot of my own work and ,enjoyed hearing about other peoples; especially as they were so keen to share their knowledge. It was very interesting to observe an organisation so unlike anything in the U.K. and very enlightening, not only from a conservation standpoint but from an administrative one as well. The work being undertaken by the Institute is both relevant and highly inspirational, it is only a shame that their sphere of research could not be extended to include all tropical forest areas which are under threat and no doubt hold invaluable plant resources. However, the lack of adequate funding and manpower for such research is an understandable barrier to I.E.B. study in tropical Africa, Asia and the Far East. Nevertheless research into all tropical areas must be intensified before the denudational processes can be reversed and only an organisation such as the I.E.B., that has already proved effective tropical researchers, can undertake this seemingly infinite work. Now that an organisation solely devoted to economic botany has been proven a success it can, and should, be used as a role model for the founding of future tropical research organisations which are essential if we are to turn the tide of tropical deforestation.

I wish to thank the Kew Guild, the Bentham-Moxon Trust and the Hallet Science Fund for their generous financial support for this trip and would also like to extend my thanks to Professor Prance for his inspiration and enthusiasm.


1990, Jonathan Allin, Nursery Practice, Greece

Chance of a lifetime

By Jonathan Allin

During September of last year I had the opportunity to follow up an offer of a lifetime. The Tom Arnold Bursary funded my trip to Greece to study the feasibility of starting a nursery on the Island of Evia. The Island is situated north east of Mainland Greece. It is connected via a small road bridge at Evia’s capital, Halkida.

The chance to start the nursery arose from working for the Noel-Baker family at their home, Achmetaga Estate, in previous summer vacations. It was upon my last visit that the Noel-Bakers suggested starting my own business, to supply nursery stock to the surrounding villages and possibly market goods in Halkida and Athens.

It all sounds rather idyllic to be true. . . The purpose of my visit was to substantiate the possibilities of such a venture. I should keep in mind that this type of lifestyle might not be all that it is cracked up to be-the Ouzo sometimes confuses the brain! The visit has now formed the basis for my third year management project.

There were many factors to be considered. What will grow? Where will it be grown? And most importantly, who shall the produce be sold to? The list goes on and I must admit seems very daunting.

The Estate is undergoing a period of change. The ownership of the forest is disputed by the Greek authorities, the local population advocates strongly the expropriation of the estate. The land is now unused and not managed. However, the Commission of the European Community have just completed a final report on the establishment of a Nature Park and a Botanic Garden to be included in this area. This will coincide with the start of my nursery.

Two areas for the proposed nursery were assessed. The first area. the Leondari, situated opposite the main entrance to the estate, once the site of a tree nursery, approximately two acres. The second a larger site, the Bottom Paddock, which backs onto the main Procopi to Mandoudi Road. Those of you who have seen the film “Jean de Florette” will understand the practicalities of having a good supply of water! The Leondari has an adequate supply although the Bottom Paddock requires a bore hole for constant and reliable water source. Both sites have definite advantages and disadvantages. After much debate it was decided to utilise the Leondari, as less capital expenditure would be required, and should make the basis for testing the market potential.

Trying to establish the market potential of the business is not as easy as it might be in England. Even after a great deal of investment on market research in the end there is still the inevitable risk factor. Trying to eliminate cost on market research and the undoubted conclusion often encountered with Greek bureaucracy, I visited the American Farm School in Thesalonika. Demetri Litsas, a grower and secretary for the local cut flower market, was extremely helpful. On his advice I visited garden centres and market stalls in Procopi, Halkida, Mandoudi and Athens. Talking to the locals confirmed my opinion that the demand for good quality plant material is high. . . something different perhaps!

Finally whilst in Athens I took the chance to call in at the British Consulate to ask about starting my business.. . “No problem. I’ll see you again when you come to register your nursery.” If all goes well the plans for the nursery will proceed and I shall take up residence in September 1992. Finance is the main hurdle to overcome, as well as the inevitable language classes.


1989, Peter Hollet, Study Tour, North And Southern Florida

Study Tour report of Florida

By Peter Hollett

The study tour to Florida took place in July 1989 and resulted in the combination of two scholarships, my own to northern Florida and the Panhandle and that of Lorraine Perrins to the Everglades National Park and Fairchild Tropical Gardens. The earlier stage of the trip is covered by Lorraine dealing with the Everglades and Fairchild.

Leaving the Everglades behind we undertook the drive north. Any visit to Florida would not be complete without a visit to Disney World and Epcot Centre. It was interesting to note the carpet bedding displays, planting schemes, hard landscape features and topiary of the Disney characters. Also at Epcot they have many projects in operation with regard to plant growth in various media, nutrient balances and conditions that would be experienced in space.

From Orlando we headed further north to the Panhandle but with a stop midway at Manatee Springs. Here it was interesting to see the natural stands of the Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum) and the associated flora. It was very exciting to see the pneumatophores or ‘knees’ they produce to survive these conditions. Other plants of interest were the Manatee grass (Thalassia sp.) and the water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes).

Heading further north-west we came to a site named Blackwater Springs which had been recommended to us as a possible site to observe carnivorous plants. Camping in the State Park here we were able to question the wardens as to locations for the plants. The wardens of the park were very helpful in identifying sites even though these plants are becoming increasingly rare due to drainage of the habitat, development and over collection.

One carnivorous plant which was reasonably common along the road verges was Drosera capillaris. This grew in the areas which are burnt off each year to reduce the height of vegetation so wildlife can be seen by motorists, and so there is little competition from grasses and other flora. Other plants in this area were species of Pinguicula and relatively poor specimens of Sarracenia leucophylla and Sarracenia purpurea growing next to a shaded stream. Further up the road was the most exciting site of the trip for me! We came across a wet, sandy field which at first looked full of white flower, but under closer inspection turned out to be a field full of the white pitchers of Sarracenia leucophylla. These pitchers were beautifully coloured due to their sunny position, brilliant white with bright red veining. Many of the pitcher plants were also in flower. As well as Sarracenias in this area there were vast amounts of Drosera filiformis and Utricularia cordata.

From the Panhandle the drive south was then undertaken passing through Manatee Springs once more and heading down the west side of the Florida Peninsula. The journey was broken by a visit to the Marie Selby Botanic Garden where a former employee of Kew was working and kindly showed us the garden and behind the scenes.

The allotted time in Florida was then running out, with only enough time to collect Marine Algaes for the new display in the Palm House at Kew in Biscayne Bay area before boarding the plane to return to the U.K.


1989, Lorraine Perrins, Study Tour, Florida, USA

Pahaokee to panhandle – a study trip to Florida

By Loraine Perrins

In August 1989, I had the opportunity to visit Florida for three action-packed weeks. A student travel scholarship and a generous donation by the Kew Guild helped me considerably in financing this trip.

This study tour was a combination of two travel scholarships submitted. Mine was concerned with southern Florida, with special regard to the Everglades National Park. Peter Hollett, who accompanied me to Florida, was particularly keen to travel to northern Florida and the Panhandle – the native habitat of an array of carnivorous plants. The final result of the combined interests was a thoroughly fascinating trip and an insight into the scenery and flora that Florida has to offer.

The journey commenced in Miami, spending a few days working at the Fairchild Tropical Gardens. I must state at this point that the people at this garden are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and they certainly made our stay at Fairchild a memorable one.

Fairchild is world renowned for its Palm and Cycad collections. and it was interesting to note the growing conditions and requirements that is supplied for these particular groups of plants.

One of our days at Fairchild was spent with Miss Jane Lippincott who is the Plant Conservation and Reintroduction Officer for southern Florida. Jane has the difficult task of rescuing rare and endangered plants from areas which are to be developed. She collects plant material and seed from threatened plants to grow on at Fairchild’s nursery area, to later reintroduce into protected sites.

The day we joined her she was collecting from an area of pineland scrub, soon to be a housing estate. One plant of particular interest here was Euphorbia deltoidia ssp. deltoidia var. adherens which was known to be occurring naturally at only one other site.

Upon leaving Fairchild, we then spent a few days exploring the Everglades National Park of Pahaokee, to the native Indians, which means “River of Grass”.

This area has incredible diversity from tropical hardwood hammocks to pinelands to mangrove swamps, each with their own special uniqueness. One particular plant species which will always spring to mind when hearing the Everglades mentioned is Hymenocallis palmeri, the Alligator Lilly, with its brilliant white flowers proclaiming itself in the jagged limestone terrain. There was plenty of wildlife to see here too, from the native white-tailed deer, to the ever-present alligators. It is distressing to know that even the Everglades, which is recognised for its uniqueness by being designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, are still perilously close to destruction, as nearby Miami squanders every available water source from it, and in effect is drying out this delicately balanced environment.

Recent research on how critical the water levels are to the Glades is standing conservationists in good stead for the future battles.

From the Everglades we then travelled further south to the Florida Keys and the John Pennenkamp Coral Reef Reserve. Here we donned snorkels and fins to experience the most fantastic sights I have ever seen. Coral reefs are a wonderment to behold and I thoroughly recommend that everyone should take the opportunity to experience them.

It was along the quays on our homeward journey two weeks later that we collected specimens of marine algae as requested by Kew from the forthcoming marine display.

The remainder of the trip I will leave for my companion Peter Hollett to describe as it deals with our quest for the elusive carnivorous plant and our journey north.

Anyone considering a tour to Florida for whatever the reason I would thoroughly recommend it, and I would like to thank the Kew Guild for assisting me on my trip. However, I do have one word of warning and that is if you plan to visit any natural areas in the south be sure to take plenty of mosquito repellent with you!


1988, Sarah Ledbetter, Student Exchange, Les Cedres, Cote DAzur


(or Heat – Struck Wanderings Along the Coast of Blue)

A Travel Scholarship report by Sarah Leadbetter, third year student

During June and July of last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in the South of France in the small town of Villefranche, just east of Nice.

Having developed an interest in Bromeliads (or a “particular passion for pineapples” as was once written of me), I had written to ‘Les Cedres’, a 40 acre private botanic garden owned by Mme. Marnier-Lapostolle – of the Grand Marnier fame, asking if she would allow me to work there. They have the largest collection of Bromeliads, grown outside, in Europe.

‘Les Cedres’ is set on the east side of Villefranche harbour on the headland St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and consequently commands breathtaking views not only of Nice, but also Monaco and Northern Italy.

I worked the mornings only with M. Rene Hebding, the Bromeliad specialist. His section consists of two glasshouses, slatted standing ground and a “roof” of their own thick bamboo canes from which more bromeliads and Stanhopea spp. hung beneath the tree canopy. In all there are approximately 20 glasshouses, including two large tropical and two large landscaped cacti houses set amidst the lush gardens.

During the afternoons I had the opportunity of exploring the rest of the garden and discovering not only the trees swathed in Tillandsias and cacti, but many unusual specimens such as the beautifully scented, pink-flowered tree, Oias cotinifolia, a tree stump covered with the small reddish flowers of Tropaeolum pentaphyllum, the exotic green leguminous flowers of Strongilodon macrobotrys together with it’s fruit (the only botanic garden in the world apparently able to do so) and the giant water-lily Victoria cruziana, planted in the large pond near the house a week before I arrived and so not flowering – it is grown outside each year.

On other afternoons I was able to visit the garden and herbarium of Villa Thuret, Cap d’Antibes, where I found the graceful arching stems of Russelia juncea, and the small cacti garden of Eze Village, perched hundreds of metres above the sapphire blue sea, where during summer temperatures soar over 32 degrees celsius and drop in winter to -10.

At the Jardin Exotique in Monaco, I saw a far larger collection of cacti, succulents, palms and a few bromeliads cascading down the mountainside above ground, and joined a tour of the caverns and “cathedrals” of creamy white stalagmites and stalactites beneath the garden.

Further east I found a superb flowering specimen of Nelumbo nucifera at the Val Rahmeh Botanic Garden, Menton-Garavan, where there were several interesting plants interspersed with rather gaudy and totally out of place bedding!

However, one of the most exciting afternoons was when I walked over the border into Italy to see ‘La Mortola’. As usual it was a scorching day, the sea unbelievably blue and suddenly from the second headland I found myself looking down on the villa ‘La Mortola’, nestling amongst a huge Yucca australis, numerous Eucalyptus spp., Jacaranda acutifolia and the stately Cupressus sempervirens.

Although now somewhat rundown, the gardens, owned by the Hanbury family from 18671960, still display some of their former glory and the University of Genoa, under the auspices of the Italian Government are attempting to restore them.

My trip really was a marvellous experience; I increased my knowledge of Bromeliad cultivation and was given several Tillandsias to bring back to Kew. My thanks are due to Mme. Marnier-Lapostolle, M. Hebding, and the Kew Guild, who, together with a close friend, enabled me to visit the Gardens of the Cote d’Azur.


1988, Marc Long, Study Tour, Morocco

Morocco and the Great Atlas

By Marc Long

The origins and diversity of the Maghreb flora offers many opportunities to the student. The Moroccan flora in particular is amongst the most diverse in the Mediterranean basin after that of Turkey, Greece and Spain. The numbers of species is estimated at 3,750 of which approximately 600 are of endemic origin. One third of these are confined to the High Atlas.

Many factors combine to erode this diversity. The principal one being over grazing by migratory goat herds as well as illegal felling for fuel and burning to gain pasture for animals. The harsh climate affects endemics with a small distribution especially at high altitude. Juniperus thurifera which once girdled the mass of the Atlas with a belt of forest has been almost completely felled and the possibilities of its re-establishment are slim.

In June 1968 a Kew Guild award and money donated by the Alpine Garden Society enabled me to spend a month in Morocco. Much of this time was spent in the High Atlas, a range of rugged mountains and hills extending N.E. by East from the Atlantic seaboard to the southern borders of Algeria forming a barrier between the northern plains and the pre-Sahara.

In the countryside buses are sporadic or non existent so a car was hired for a period of three weeks and together with Dr. Mohammed Rejdali at the Institut Agronornique et Veterinaire Hassan II in Rabat an itinerary was planned to include selected sites of botanic interest at this time of the year. The localities chosen were the following:

1. The Toubkal National Park.
2. The Argan forest to the West of Taroudannt.
3. The Dades and Todra Gorges.
4. Jbel Ayachi.
5. Azrou, Ifrane and environs.

As well as botanising, visits were made to the cities of Fez and Marrakech both preserving in their Medina the appearance to the visitor of a medieval Islamic city. A brief foray was made through the date palm growing regions of Tafilalt to the rolling sand dunes of Merzouga.

The approach road to Asni through the Mouiay Brahim Gorges yielded an abundance of roadside flora. Patches of blue Catananche coerulea, Limonium mouretii were interspersed with Rumex papilo and the metallic Eryngium ilicifolium. Salvia taraxacifolia an endemic was also seen in places. Descending the slopes towards a dry river bed enclosed within stiff hedges of Ononis spinosa and Capparis spinosa, Galium corrudifolium was found in conjunction with Coronilla viminalis.

An overnight stop at the picturesque Youth Hostel at Asni was followed by an early morning departure for Imlil where the car was left under the watchful eye of a ‘Gardien’. Fine Walnut groves surrounding the village gave way to terraced banks enclosing irrigated parcels of land as the mule track wound its way tortuously to the Netler refuge (3,207m) at the foot of Mt. Toubkal. High altitude and exposure to a harsh climate has resulted in vegetation dominated by caespitose shrubs such as Bupleurum spinosum and Vella pseudoeytisus. These sheltered a wide variety of rock garden gems such as Campanula atlantica, the compact Pterocephalus depressus, Eryngium bourgatii and Leucanthemum catananche.

The following day a trek from Oukaimeden to Tachedirrt proved to be one of the highlights of my stay in Morocco. This area is incredibly rich in plant species and fortunately there was no evidence of transhumance leaving the surrounding meadows and slopes to riot in colour. Potentilla nevadensis, Echium flavum and Dianthus gaditanus was found along with Euphorbia pinea and Onopordon accaule. Great drifts of Armeria alliacea and Catananehe caerulea dotted the valley above Tachedirrt. A warm welcome in Tachedirrt included an introduction to every person in the village, an exchange of gifts and later that evening a delicious Couscous washed down with mint tea followed by a sound nights sleep in a Berber house.

Continuing southwards the summit of Tizi-n-Test was botanised yielding Ptilotrichum spinosum together with the red stems and bright green bracts of Euphorbia dasycarpa as well as the pungent Thymus dreatensis in full bloom.

A dizzy descent through a series of sweeping hair pin bends eventually led to the broad river valley of the Oued Sous. Here the land is intensively cultivated, the fertile soil and constant irrigation support large tracts of Citrus groves and other crops. Of these the most interesting is the endemic Aragania spinosa confined to the sub-littoral zone of south west Morocco. A valuable edible oil is extracted from the seed and the wood which was formerly abundant is unrivalled for its hardness and durability. Photographs of both flower and fruit were obtained. As is the case elsewhere in Morocco overgrazing and felling has prevented regeneration leading to the forest becoming sparse and unproductive.

Two days of isolation and uncertainty followed driving on unmetalled roads (Pistes) through the Dades and Todra gorges. Here eroded limestone ridges alternated with spectacular deep gorges enclosed by sheer cliff faces.

The area around Azrou and Ifrane is remarkable, for it is here one can see forests of Cedrus atlantica, showing welcome signs of good husbandry and natural regeneration. it was also exciting to witness the provenance of what is in Europe and N. America a feature in many historic parks and gardens.

Near the Col du Zad frequent sightings of bright purple clumps forced a roadside halt to reveal Cynara hystrix. Another site close to Ifrane sustained Inula montana and small pockets of the attractive Centaurea ineana as well as the tall pale endemic Eryngium moroccanum.

A month passed all too quickly, but as I write this one of my most vivid memories is of a late evening drive through the Skoura oasis, a fresh breeze blowing through the window and the date palms, their arching pinnate leaves borne on long elegant trunks silhouetted against the sky.


1988, Louise Bustard, Study Tour, Arizona USA

Desert days

By Louise Bustard

April and May in the Southwestern states of America is cactus flowering time. It is a time of plenty for all; for the creatures which feed on the vast reservoirs of nectar provided by a cactus flower; and for the flowers which are visited and hopefully pollinated by myriad insects, bees, bats, moths and birds. It is spring and the chill winter is past. Surprisingly, winter in both the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts can be extremely cold. The temperatures regularly drop well below freezing resulting in frequent frosts and occasional snow falls. Even in late May day-time temperatures in the high desert regions can be uncomfortably low as I discovered whilst travelling through the Joshua Tree National Monument in Southern California. As I stood by a Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) trying to photograph it, I felt a little foolish with my blue shorts, blue legs and fingers too cold to press the shutter.

The desert proved to be a land of endless surprises. I had expected to find a bare and barren wilderness but what actually confronted me was a landscape bursting with countless varieties of life forms. As one of the more recent (geologically speaking) climatic environments to appear on Earth, both the flora and fauna now inhabiting desert areas have evolved the ability to endure the extreme nature of the desert. Many of the adaptations to withstand extremes of temperature and intense aridity followed by flash floods are unique and in many cases extremely bizarre. The structure of a cactus with ribs to permit shrinkage in dry periods and swelling during the rains also to create some shade on their neighbours; a waxy cuticle to prevent excessive water loss; spines to create more shade and to form a layer behind which cool air is trapped during the heat of the day and warm air during the cool nights, all these features lead one to believe that mother nature works it all out logically.

I was surprised by the obvious difference between two neighbouring desert states, California and Arizona. In Arizona both the people and their laws actively support the conservation of their desert and their wildlife. Unlike many of their Californian neighbours they do not shun their native plants. The gardens, parks and municipal buildings are generously landscaped using the native flora. Some exotics are used of course, Palms, Jacarandas, Oleandas and various South African and Australian trees line the streets. The laws limiting the use of water in Arizona restricts the use of plants to drought-tolerant species and looks perfectly in harmony with the desert environment.

Each state through which the Colorado River flows is permitted to take a specified amount of its water. Arizona’s forward-looking approach to conservation of water and energy production means that it only removes two thirds of its allotted quota.

California on the other hand takes its full quota and the third which Arizona leaves behind. I found the wasteful use of water in California quite shocking. Here the residents, whilst revelling in the sunshine and clean air (at least, those not living within 50 miles of Los Angeles) of the desert, seem very reluctant to use their native flora and prefer to surround themselves with plants more at home in the rainforest. To maintain this effect of a green and pleasant land garden irrigation systems were kept running for almost the entire day and the streets in many of the suburban areas I visited were literally running with water.

If I had to choose just one highlight from my desert travels, helped by a Kew Guild Award Scheme grant, it must be the four days I spent camping in the Sonoran Desert in northern Mexico. Two marvellous people, desert-lovers and plant growers from Tuscan took me into the rarely visited depths of the desert looking westward towards the Gulf of California and the peninsula of Baja. With a combined bottomless pit of knowledge about the desert and all that exists within it, Chuck Hanson and Meg Quinn taught me to love this extraordinary place and consequently develop a greater understanding of my plants and their needs.

On our final night in Mexico we sat by the camp fire in complete silence until darkness fell. There was a full moon in a sky so full of stars they looked like sequins on a black velvet dress. The canyon in which we were camped occasionally echoed to the sound of an owl or a badger screeching. The moon was the brightest I had ever seen as its light cascaded down upon the desert scene creating a magical effect. In the distance the seas in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortes to the Mexicans), shone like a pool of silver, silhouetted against this were the huge 15ft tall Pachycereus pringlei columnar cacti.

Pachycereus pringlei

Suddenly we heard a noise from above. The night creatures were about. We got up and walked down the canyon, no torches were used, our world was alight with gleaming silver and blue. As we wove our way past the shrubs some of their strange shapes appeared more unworldly than ever. The inflated base and spindly limbs of the elephant bush Bursera microphylla suddenly became a dollop of ice cream with broken wafers stuck in it. The baffling ‘Boojum’ Idria columnaris took on the appearance of a giant carrot ejecting itself from out of the ground. We came to a halt at the base of a huge ‘Cardon’ (Pachycereus pringlei). Its large white flowers (almost two inches across) only open after dark when they emit a sweet odour. As Chuck shone his powerful torch up to the tops of these magnificent giants the answer to why their exquisite flowers only show themselves at night became clear. There, with its head buried deep within a flower was a bat. These extraordinary mammals feed on the nectar offered by the flower. In return they pollinate with their heads which are completely covered in bright yellow pollen from the massive numbers of anthers which have to be penetrated before the nectar can be reached.

That night as I lay in my sleeping bag I reflected on how much I had learned in the desert, that it is a place full of life and not the barren emptiness we often believe it to be. “Perhaps”, I thought, “I won’t try too hard to change peoples’ negative view of the desert, then, with luck it may remain unvisited and unspoilt”. “On the other hand”, I said to myself, “Just think what they’ll be missing”.


1988, Alison Bowles, Study Tour, New Zealand

The land of kiwis and tree ferns

By Alison M. Bowles

On completing the Kew Diploma Course in September 1988 I embarked on a study tour abroad. I was fortunate to have some money from the Kew Guild to help with my expenses while I was in New Zealand. I had decided to travel to New Zealand in order to visit their National Parks and gain a better knowledge of their native flora, especially the ferns. I had contacted Kewite Ian McDowell at Pukekura Park and he very kindly put me in touch with horticultural groups throughout New Zealand. I was therefore able to see much of both North and South Islands.

I arrived in Auckland at the end of January, able to enjoy the end of an antipodean summer. I visited Graham Platt’s Nursery; where he operates an interesting concept in marketing for a retail nursery, as none of the plants are labelled. The idea is that customers have to ask for advice and therefore go away with a plant likely to do well in the position they have described in their garden. This was a good introduction for me to New Zealand as he specialises in natives, paying particular attention to the provenance of his stock plants. He then kindly showed me around the Waitakre Cascade Falls Park, in a range of hills very close to Auckland where many New Zealand natives can be found, including the famous Kauri, Agathis australis which was heavily felled for its strong timber in the nineteenth century. This was also my first chance to see some New Zealand tree ferns in their native habitat, such as Cyathea dealbata and Dicksonia squarrosa.

I travelled from Auckland to Nelson via the Wellington-Picton ferry, watching dolphins as we entered Marlborough Sound. Many people I spoke to throughout the country complained about the gorse which had been introduced from Britain, originally for use as a hedge. It thrived in the southern climate and has now naturalised; I particularly remember the hills around Marlborough Sound being a vivid yellow.

The journey from Picton to Nelson took me across the Richmond Range where I saw Nothofagus woodlands for the first time. In Nelson I stayed with members of the Nelson Fern Society, who were most helpful, taking me to a number of locations to see filmy ferns and also to some local private gardens owned by fern enthusiasts. They were able to supply me with some filmy ferns which I sent to Kew. I also gained my first experience of public speaking when I gave a talk to their Society about Kew Gardens.

I continued through South Island to Dunedin. Travelling by coach I was able to appreciate the countryside, crossing over the Lewis Pass and then descending to the vast and parched Canterbury Plain. I gave a second talk at Dunedin Botanic Garden to their Society which had been modelled on the Kew Mutual Improvement Society. A large proportion of the audience were students who seemed very interested in Kew’s work.

Then on to Te Anau and the beginning of the famous Milford Track, a three day hike in a World Heritage Park, crossing the Mackinnon Pass and eventually descending to Milford Sound. This was a wonderful way to appreciate the vegetation which luxuriates there with an average of six to ten metres of rain a year. We began walking through Nothofagus forest, with many ferns in the understoreys. As we climbed the beeches became smaller until Hoheria was the dominant plant, then we came to the alpine area and found Ranunculus Iyalli, Celmisias, Aciphyllas and low growing Hebes. Descending to the wetter western side of the pass I saw filmy ferns really at home, and wonderful specimens of Leptopteris superba.

I then continued my journey by heading up the West Coast to Greymouth. Numerous Metrosideros spp. in bloom way up in the tree tops added vivid splashes of colour to the roadside. The New Zealand train service has a limited number of routes, but the Trans Alpine Express Service to Christchurch had been recommended to me as it passes through spectacular mountain scenery.

In Christchurch Pamela Gibbons, an ex-Kew student, and her husband put me up for a few days. She had kindly arranged for me to be shown around Christchurch Botanic Gardens and Christchurch Parks and Recreation Department both of which were very informative. The Botanic Garden has a distinct English feel to it from the nature of its plantings. I also contacted another Kewite, John Taylor, and was able to spend an evening with him.

I now had to make my way to Hawera, in the North Island, to give a talk to Hawera Horticultural Society. My hosts in Hawera were members of the Society and had lots of local horticultural contacts, I was therefore shown around many gardens. They are close to New Plymouth and took me to Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust, nestling between the Pouakai and Kaitake Ranges which provides the site with an excellent microclimate. We also visited Pukekura Park where I met Ian McDowell and George Fuller who very kindly showed me around. They have an unusual fernery which had been hollowed out of the volcanic ash so that you walk through a narrow tunnel entrance. The ferns certainly seem to enjoy their surroundings. While in the area I visited Duncan and Davies Nurseries and saw their propagation houses and packing shed.

Then on to Tauranga and my last talk, where I stayed with the Secretary of the Bay of Plenty District of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture. This is a major centre for Kiwi fruit growing so I enjoyed looking around an orchard and a packing plant. They look so rampant, with foliage spreading everywhere.

Then to the East Coast and Napier where I stayed with David Lowe and his family for a few days. They had been suffering a drought so when, on my arrival, it rained they were all very happy. Unfortunately it was wet for much of my stay in Napier. There is a wonderful avenue of Norfolk Pines along the promenade. Despite the damp and rather cold weather making me feel rather at home one look into the gardens and the sight of Tibouchina, Hibiscus and Bougainvilleas all thriving told me definitely this was not England.

I was then able to meet up with Alice de Nys, who had been an international student at Kew while I was on the Course. We were shown around the Otari Open Air Native Plant Museum by the Curator, Mr. Ray Mole. This consists of 200 acres, much of it still native bush, in a cold valley on the outskirts of Wellington. Plants from throughout New Zealand are on display, such as Griselinia lucida and Myosotidium hortensia. His enthusiasm for the New Zealand flora made me feel very sorry to be shortly leaving it behind. I travelled up to Palmerston North with Alice and she showed me around the propagation houses at Massey University where she now works.

I was very fortunate to be able to spend this time in New Zealand where I met many interesting horticulturalists who willingly shared their knowledge of their native flora with me. I am grateful to the Kew Guild for helping to finance this trip.


1987, Sue Bell, Study Of House Plant Production, Denmark

“Something is blooming in the state of Denmark”

by Sue Bell

During the first three weeks of July, 1987 I travelled to Denmark to study their large and successful house plant industry. As well as trying to account for this success, I was hoping to visit the country’s famous castles and gardens, and see something of the capital and countryside. The Hozelock-ASL prize and money kindly donated by the Kew Guild helped considerably in financing the trip.

It made sense to start in the capital, Copenhagen, which is on the island called Zealand and then work back via Funen, to the Jutland Peninsula, and the ferry home. Apart from my time in Copenhagen I stayed in Youth Hostels. Travel was easy, even between the islands as the Danish public transport system is very good. Whilst in North Zealand I made much use of a Copenhagen Card which gives unlimited use on the buses and trains, ideal for exploring.

I was first based at the Copenhagen Botanical Garden, where I stayed with a gardener, Gert Void. Due to a civil service strike the garden was rarely open to the public. This was also sadly the case with all the national museums and palaces during my stay. The garden staff were very friendly and gave me many tips and contacts which proved useful later. Several of the staff spoke English and were familiar with Kew from exchange visits.

The garden is situated on the old city ramparts which gives it a very interesting topography. The rock garden resembles a hill top boulder field, from which one can just view a surprisingly large and natural looking lake. The garden is surrounded by trees and shrubs so the herbaceous areas and glass houses are sheltered. There are large and impressive collections of annuals and Danish native plants. One of the most interesting glass houses is the arctic house which contains many plants from Greenland, Denmark’s largest island.

My stay in Copenhagen coincided with an exhibition of Denmark’s most popular house plants in the city hall, this was to promote the Marguerite as Denmark’s national flower. Needless to say the botanists were less happy with this choice of plant than the commercial growers! Even so, the scale and prestige at the exhibition was a clear example of the enviable status horticulture commands in Denmark and it’s importance in the country.

Most of the pot plants grown in Denmark are exported. This puts the growers close to the capital at some disadvantage as the main export and marketing organisations are based on the island of Funen, the so called “Garden of Denmark”. Even so the growers I did visit near Copenhagen had modern facilities and some felt confident enough to expand and even experiment with new crops.

Many of the marketing organisations are grower co-operatives. these are the GAZAs. The letters stand for Gardener’s Sales Association. GAZA Odense and GAZA Arhus are two of the most important for pot plants. They actively promote and sell the plants in many countries, including the U.K. This means the growers are free to concentrate on what they do best, the growing. I was very fortunate to spend a day visiting the GAZA Odense and surrounding growers with a sales consultant from the GAZA, Kim Evald. The GAZA has its own lorry fleet, modern offices, warehouses and an auction.

When the plants arrive from the growers they are assembled into the orders that the sales consultants have taken previously, and placed on Danish trolleys. The trolleys are then programmed and can travel unassisted on rails through the warehouses to their point of departure, a GAZA lorry bound for the customer. Such is the success of GAZA Odense that growers who are members don’t have to be ultra modern to survive even though many are. I was surprised to visit some very small growers with dilapidated buildings. They are able to make a living by concentrating on growing just one or two crops but to the high standard the GAZAs demand.

The Danish pot plant industry is well supported by an impressive advisory service the D.E.G. My visit to their offices proved very profitable, they were very helpful in arranging grower visits and answering my many questions. Denmark also has Horticultural Research Stations and like their counterparts in the U.K., they are experiencing reduced funding. I managed to visit two one which specialises in pests and diseases at Lyngby and the other at Arslev, The Glass House Crops Research Institute. Research and development is also carried out in the private sector. The breeding station of Daehnfeldt, the Seed Company was most impressive, especially their micropropagation facilities.

It was always refreshing to see some Danish culture as opposed to strictly horticulture. As the song says, Copenhagen is “wonderful!”. The spectacular spires and towers of the city were unexpected and particularly impressive. I was most keen to see the Castle at Helsingor (Elsinore), immortalised by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It stands overlooking the Sound, a narrow stretch of water between North Zealand and Sweden. I visited in an evening when walking around the ramparts it takes little to imagine the scene of the midnight encounter between Hamlet and the ghost which ends on a note of ominous intent.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Heaven will direct it.”
Act 1 Scene V