Reading at Reading

Thank you MSc Plant Diversity at Reading, Global Plant Biodiversity and Conservation module, for giving UK & Irish threatened garden cultivars a hearing on Friday.

These snaps are from our late morning session, investigating Fuchsia cultivars threatened in cultivation – starting with Reading Herbarium specimens, of course. Hello @RNGherb !

And what were we reading? Typing, print, handwriting, websites, and of course photographs, drawings and real (if dead) plants. Ah, a variety of sources.

comparing sources

Alastair, Michael and Jordan on the Plant Finder 2014 and herbarium specimens from the 1970s&80s

Excitingly (aren’t we modern), Sara (not pictured) and Jan were (only for the second time) remoting in to the class via Skype. They were very much part of the team, simultaneously checking UK nursery website descriptions from the only remaining supplier, Clay Lane Nursery, and the International Cultivar Registration Authority’s notes from America against the threatened list online.

students via Skype

keeping an eye on each other

RHS colour chart pinks

Toral and Phoebe doing a quick fan dance with RHS colour charts (Sara, on screen) after we’d all been comparing colour descriptions for some time

So what happened?

First uncovered was Fuchsia boliviana var. puberulenta cultivar ‘Alba’. Not in either list: was it an even rarer unknown cultivar? The name made me nervous, as so many “alba”s become demoted to varieties rather than cultivars. But as someone pointed out, it was already a variety, the alba couldn’t be a variety too? We checked the RHS horticultural database online: 5 answers for the search on keywords fuchsia+boliviana+alba. It was a synonym; now the white Bolivian fuchsia is indeed a variety. What was interesting was the last record returned – one of its parents was a cultivar which seemed to be the opposite cross of another specimen revealed in the lab (working through all the species and subspecies names). Thank goodness people don’t commonly swap sexes and have another child!

We looked up a cultivar ‘Versicolor’ – again, some different versions of the name, but not threatened.

We found ‘Mary’, with arrestingly intense red flowers, despite being made more than 25 years ago. It was not one of the numerous Mary Somethings on the threatened list, but it was on the long list as not threatened. Nothing to worry about? However, our remote students reported the ICRA listed it as white/pale pink flowers and bred/registered in 1997. Was ours an original, extinct ‘Mary’ whose name had since been reused? More than one person believed it had really been Mary Something mis-transcribed. Or, someone else suggested, had different ones been independently named in the UK and America? There shouldn’t be by now… I’ve just checked the RHS and their photo looks like the Reading specimen. Not threatened – it’s even got an Award of Garden Merit. It’s also interesting that we’ve got many on the UK “all known” list, even just in the Marys, that haven’t made it into the ICRA database yet. Hmm.

looking at a herbarium specimen

‘Mary’, Phoebe and Toral

‘Deben Petite’ provided another mystery. Currently Threatened in cultivation, its UK breeder was in no doubt, although the spelling and date varied between sources. And the mounted specimen had a disclaimer…

plant identity in doubt

Or is it?

I had brought Wagtails Book of Fuchsias from the Plant Heritage bookshelf (our office is the size of a portakabin, so I hesitate to call it a library) These friendly volumes were hand-drawn and written by the nursery over many years of devotion. One of the students found both ‘Deben Petite’ and three different renditions of F. paniculata to compare.

description of cultivar in book

Fig. 1,019. “Easy to grow, but can outgrow its welcome in a small greenhouse”

I hope everyone enjoyed their glimpse of the project and the idea of cultivar conservation! Don’t forget Threatened Plants are now on Twitter as @SaveTheCvs

university teddybears

The only silent ones today

And just think, back in 1771 there was only one fuchsia species known…

but one species

but one species


Millers, MDCCLXXI, from the Reading herbarium

About TPP Kalani

Dr Kalani Seymour, Threatened Plants Project Coordinator, Plant Heritage (NCCPG)
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3 Responses to Reading at Reading

  1. Liz Dobbs says:

    Interested to know Clay Lane Nurseries still going – I drive near by on way to East Surrey Hospital that road is closed for 10 weeks so I hope it gets open so he can have some more customers in spring. I last got some fuchsias from him for Hampton Court Show Garden in mid 1990s!

  2. andeanflora says:

    Dear Kalani.    Reading this gave me the Creepies.   Fuchsia boliviana variant perubulenta    not a cultivar this was named in an early American botany.  In fuchsia there are many variants due to the terrain conditions where it grows.    I have never heard or seen a alba form but have grown Boliviana perublenta for 50+ years.      Reading had a fuchsia man in the chair the late John O. Wright who changed many names.   In a way I introduced him to fuchsias when he was a after dinner speaker at the Mayors dinner in Sheffield.  His subject was running and irrigation of tea and coffee plantations.   He had to leave Kenya at short notice ( not sure if it was the mou mou uprising).     He at one time tried to change the naming of plants.   The first he gave me was a F. splendens from seed collected in Mexico.   Rather than calling it Fuchsia splendens he called it Karl Hartweg. Karl only a minor botanist. Working with the RHS on Fuchsia is also a difficult area as they are still working from the Revision of Genus Fuchsia 1943.  Munz withdrew this in October 1988 in the Presidents Hotel,  Loja.  Ecuador.    Today’s work is the Revision of Genus Fuchsia 1967 to this day.    Prof Peter Raven got a huge sum of money from one of the American foundations to divide a plant Family.  He chose Ornagraseae with 27 botanists working on it.  Dr Paul E Berry now prof. Was in charge of fuchsia.     I will bring the Revision of Genus fuchsia down but will not loan it to anyone.   I started with six copies and am left with just one.    The Revision carries on to this day. I will not go into cultivars but Mary is a red self triphylla type and quite common. Best wishes.      Jack Lamb.

  3. andeanflora says:

    Fuchsia boliviana forma puberulenta. Sorry for my early misspelling. Bolivia dept. La Paz. Prov Nor Yungas 1800 m December 1917. Otto Buchtein 732. (F588700, holotype;)

    Fuchsia boliviana in Europe. Cultivated in France in the garden of Benedict Roezl 1873 plate in Revue Horticole 1876 from seed collected in Bolivia at 6000ft. Fuchsia boliviana from northern Argentina southern Peru spread all south and central South America

    Distribution now Jamaica, Hawaii, JavaReunion, India and many more with many trying to remove it as a invasive plant.

    Can’t find any mention of var alba.

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