Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Ah yes, that's a washing powder!

Or at least that's what some people think biodiversity actually is

ON THE Friday before the recent holiday weekend the ITGA and the Society of Irish Foresters held their respective AGMs at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Almost half a million people now visit these gardens annually yet there is always a feeling of space and peace and for anyone interested in gardening, trees and plants in general. Well worth a tour.

The Botanic Gardens have a long and fascinating history, having been originally founded in 1795 by the then Dublin Society, now better known as the RDS, and to this day continue to expand and improve under the guidance of the Office of Public Works.

Our day had been well organised and following a short talk on plant behaviour, Dr Matthew Jebb took us to the herbarium where over 660,000 species of plants from all over the world are stored in a specially controlled climate. Here he held us spellbound as he described the history of the national collection, which has stems, buds, leaves and other sections of plants and trees from all over the globe. In a most entertaining manner he explained the importance of keeping original specimens for renaming and identification purposes. Even the most ancient of these can still be used for identification and comparisons with modern hybrids and DNA testing is also possible when required. Plants are not static and are continually exchanging genes and altering behaviour. I wonder how this fact affects some of the arguments in the great GM crops debate.

Dr Peter Wyse Jackson, director of the gardens, then gave us an overview of the history of the gardens and some of the characters that shaped it over the years. People like Dr Augustine Henry who, while in China, collected over 158,000 specimens and who had a profound influence on Irish forestry, including recommending the extensive planting of Sitka spruce, which formed the base for our present forest industry.

Commenting on the lack of knowledge among many of the general public when dealing with the subject of plants, wildlife and the environment in general, he said that in a recent survey in Britain, when people were asked what biodiversity was, the majority said they thought it was a washing powder!

To end the day we enjoyed a tour of the gardens and the great palm house, which has been painstakingly restored and was reopened in 2004. Here we saw a specimen of the now famous Wollemi pine, which was recently rediscovered in Australia and had been previously believed extinct. This pine belongs to a family that existed some 200 million years ago and is one of the world's oldest and rarest trees. To put the time scale into some sort of perspective, our ancestors were the size of mice when these trees were forests.

The National Botanic Gardens are open seven days a week and admission is free. These gardens are one of our national treasures, well worth a visit and a marvellous place to see plants and trees from all corners of the world growing in our climate.

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