Rare Aussie plant flowers for the first time at Wakehurst

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A CRITICALLY endangered plant from Western Australia is flowering for what is believed to be the first time in the UK at Wakehurst Place.

The conservation success follows conservation work by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and its partners in Australia.

The rare Banksia brownii, the feather-leaved banksia, is threatened by disease, fires, and the possible effects of climate change in its native Western Australia.

Kew’s Director, Professor Stephen Hopper, knows the species well from his native country.

He said: “The imminent flowering of the feather-leaved Banksia for the first time in the UK is a potent symbol of international collaboration in saving imperiled plants.

“The species is named for two of Britain’s greatest botanists – Sir Joseph Banks and Robert Brown, naturalist on the Flinders’ expedition.”

To safeguard the species, Banksia brownii seeds were collected by experts from the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation and some stored at sub-zero temperatures in the vaults of the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, Kew’s country estate near Haywards Heath.

Research has been carried out on others by seed ecologists at the seed bank to test the effects of temperature on their germination and growth.

A number of young plants were grown from seed in the nursery at Wakehurst with most returned to Australia and a few remained at Wakehurst.

Now, for the first time since they were germinated in 2007, one is coming into flower.

Visitors will now have a chance to see it on display in the Orange Room of the Millennium Seed Bank. The orangey yellow flowers are expected to last for several weeks.

Ted Chapman, team leader of Wakehurst’s Plant Propagation and Conservation Unit, said: “Banksia brownii is extremely rare in cultivation – this may be the first time one has flowered in this country. It is certainly the first time we have had one flowering here at Wakehurst.

“The flowers are quite unusual and we are intrigued to see how they develop. These are challenging plants to grow, and it is very satisfying when something rare responds to specialist care. It is continuing the success story of the Banksia brownii conservation and research work.”

Visitors can also see a different type of Banksia – Banksia integrifolia – at Wakehurst in Coates Wood and the Southern Hemisphere Garden.

One of the Banksia integrifolia is part of a Champion Tree Trail around the estate, being the tallest of its species in Britain and Ireland.

Picture by W.Stuppy shows Ted Chapman with the rare Banksia brownii.