Marking the start of Climate Week 2022, a glade of seven-metre-tall Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns, growing for nearly 150 years in the temperate heat of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE)’s Glasshouses, will embark on Thursday 29 September on an epic journey of 145 miles to their new outdoor home at Logan Botanic Garden, RBGE’s subtropical Regional Garden near Stranraer on the southwest tip of Scotland.
The complex operation to remove the tree ferns from the Ferns and Fossils Glasshouse, is being undertaken as part of the Garden’s Edinburgh Biomes project to restore its historic Glasshouses, ensuring a safe future for the collection of 40,000 rare and endangered plants. The current phase is part of an intricate operation requiring work on 500 different plants in the Ferns and Fossils Glasshouse, with the majority being rehoused temporarily elsewhere on the Edinburgh site until the lengthy refurbishment work is complete, later this decade.
Sadie Barber, Research Collections and Project Manager at RBGE explained: “Conserving species like this as part of our Living Collection of plants is vital in the fight to ensure their survival, both in botanic gardens and, ultimately, in their natural habitats, which is why the Edinburgh Biomes project is so important.
“To enable the Glasshouse restoration, we are now in the process of transplanting plants from our Ferns and Fossils Glasshouse for safekeeping. However, specimens such as Dicksonia antarctica and Thyrsopteris elegans are massive and grow tightly together along narrow, winding paths. Finding solutions to lifting and moving them safely in such a confined space has been quite a challenge.”
As a result, team members have spent the last six months hard at work accruing new knowledge on digging up, moving and potting specimens within the tight confines of naturalistic plantings. The process has provided the teams with new opportunities to explore effective new ways of safely propagating and translocating mature plants such as the tree ferns without causing them undue stress.
Five Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns will be relocated to Logan but are too tall to dig up and move easily from the Glasshouse. Instead, the team will simply cut the ‘trunks’, which are in fact a thick mass of fibrous roots, and replant them, allowing them to regenerate in their new location.
Using ladders and scaffolds, the expert Horticulture team will first remove the 2-metre long fronds at the top of each fern then, using a system of chainsaws and guy ropes to control the plant’s felling, will carefully remove the top four metres of each ‘trunk’.
Once removed, the team will prepare the ferns for their journey through central and southern Scotland to their new home at Logan. There, the tree ferns will be replanted – outside for the first time in their lives.
Richard Baines, Curator of Logan Regional Garden added: “We are very much looking forward to welcoming these magnificent tree ferns to Logan where they will join existing palms and tree ferns to form a spectacular antipodean forest.
“In Edinburgh, the plants require the warmth of the Glasshouses but, as Logan is warmed by the Gulf Stream, we can grow plants from throughout the southern hemisphere outdoors. We are sure that the tree ferns will thrive in their new surroundings.”
Four Dicksonia antarctica will remain at the Edinburgh Garden to be replanted in the heritage Palm Houses once the restoration project is complete. There, they will once again become a star attraction for visitors.