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THE FRIENDS OF
Number / Rhif 30 September/Medi 2007
Judith Hughes Chairman
Dr. David Shaw Vice-Chair
Sarah Edgar Secretary
Rachel Hughes Treasurer
Angela Thompson Membership Secretary
Andrea Roberts Newsletter Editor
Jackie Read Publicity Officer
Dr. Pat Denne Committee Member
Ann Scott Wood Committee Member
Enid Griffiths Committee Member
Grace Gibson Committee Member
Geoff Radford Committee Member
Becky Groves Committee Member
Ellis Jones Committee Member
Nigel Brown Curator
Bronwen Richards Student Representative
Front cover: Wollemi Tree Planting – Iolo Williams & Nigel Brown courtesy of
How quickly the months have passed since our last newsletter, yet it seems that we are still awaiting summer! However, life has not been still at Treborth. We now have a horticultural scholar, Miss Louise Bastock, courtesy of the Stanley Smith (UK) Horticultural Trust, and I’m sure you will all know that Iolo Williams, BBC and S4C’s face and voice of nature, was at Treborth in July to plant the Wollemi nobilis. We’ve held other events too, and it’s always encouraging to know that they have been enjoyed by the participants. One such occasion was the Bug Hunt when a grandchild of one of our Friends reported that “the Bug Hunt was the best day of the holiday”! There has also been a meeting between the University and the National Botanic Garden of Wales to discuss possible collaboration. As you read the newsletter you will see that Friends, Committee Members, vegetation and birdlife have been equally busy, as have the volunteers and students without whom we could not function as we do.
Talking of the newsletter, we’ve included a book review by Grace Gibson whose enthusiasm for Making Wildflower Meadows by Pam Lewis has prompted us to purchase a copy for the laboratory and to make it available to members for reference.
Tina Stagg responded to our plea for furniture contributions for the Friends’ office, and we’d like to thank her for the donation of four chairs, and we can state quite categorically that they have been well used!
Changing the subject and tone, Treborth Botanic Garden is enjoyed by many people each day. As you know, it is also part of the university and used for academic studies and research. Therefore, I would like to ask those people taking their dogs for walks around the garden and woodland to be considerate of the garden, gardeners, students and users alike by not allowing their dogs to foul, or disturb, the area. Bird feeding projects commence in October and are particularly prone to disturbance
Thank you for helping us keep the garden safe for all those of us who visit each day.
As you already appreciate, the Garden at Treborth needs constant attention - collections are tended with loving care, and propagation and maintenance work goes on all the time. Volunteer groups undertake much of this, but they need tools and other materials to carry out this work. The Friends are dependent upon your membership contributions to provide a steady income for improving the gardens and facilities.
So please would you fill in the enclosed form and return it to me with your cheque. Alternatively, you may like to complete the Standing Order form so that you can ignore my reminder next year!
WILDLIFE FRIENDLY FRIENDS!
Hopefully, by now you all know about the ‘Best Wildlife Garden Competition’ that is run by the Snowdonia Wildlife Gardening Project (of which Treborth is a partner). This competition looks for gardeners that make their garden attractive for wildlife as well as for themselves. The judges, which include myself and Nigel, as well as former competition winners Sarah Edgar and Jerry Downing, look for gardens which have a wide variety of habitats. These may include ponds, hedgerows, climbing plants, shrubs, nectar boarders, areas of long grass, nest boxes and log piles. The judges also look for gardeners who work with nature rather than against it – for example composting, using rainwater for watering, refrain from using pesticides and gardening within the site’s conditions. As usual the prize giving ceremony was in Hercules Hall in Portmeirion gardens on the 12 July and this year the hall was fuller than ever before! There was a great prize giving team, with Nigel describing the gardens and Lord Dafydd Ellis Thomas awarding the prizes. We were all delighted to see Ann Wood from the Friends of Treborth receiving first prize in the Small Garden category, for her fabulous wildlife friendly garden. Ann is the third prize winner in the competition from the Friends: in 2005 Sarah Edgar and Jerry Downing won first prize, in 2006 Nigel and Hazel Bond won second prize. Can you keep up this winning tradition? If you’d like to try, go to www.gardenforwildfe.co.uk, or telephone Anna Williams on 01286-650288 to be put on the mailing list to receive details of next years competition.
Prize winner Ann Wood with Nigel Brown, Lord Dafydd Ellis Thomas and Anna Williams
IOLO AND THE WOLLEMI
July 19th was a special date as it marked not only Graduation for final year students, many of whom have been so supportive of Treborth, but also the planting of one very special specimen tree, Wollemia nobilis by another great supporter of the Garden, well known broadcaster and conservationist, Iolo Williams, who also had cause to celebrate after receiving an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Wales earlier in the day.
The fundraising efforts of both the Friends and students made the purchase of Wollemia nobilis possible and Iolo was clearly extremely happy to be invited to do the planting and chat to many of the 150 or so Friends, students and parents who gathered for the event. Refreshments and the opportunity to view the Garden meant that many stayed on to fully enjoy the occasion which was blessed with fine sunshine.
Wollemia nobilis is of exceptional botanical interest as it was only discovered, new to science, in S.E.Australia in 1994. It represents a hitherto unknown genus with direct evolutionary links to the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria auracana), Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) as well as Kauri Pine (Agathis australis). Added to this is the remarkable similarity shared by Wollemia and some well preserved fossil foliage of conifers which grew in several parts of the Southern Hemisphere 90 million years ago and previously believed to have gone extinct 2 million years ago, making Wollemia a so called ‘Living Fossil.’
The opportunity was taken to highlight other living fossil plants at Treborth on the day during a guided walk which included Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba) and Taiwania cupressoides, as well as glasshouse specimens of Cycads, Ferns and Clubmosses.
Thank you to everyone involved with the acquisition of such an exciting addition to Treborth’s tree collection and for all who helped to make the event so memorable, not least our guest of honour and wealder of the silver spade, Iolo Williams, Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales, Bangor - his encouraging words on that sunny July afternoon were an inspiration to us all as he wished our brand new graduates and our latest plant recruit well for the future - after all that’s what Treborth Botanic Garden is all about – celebrating the planet’s plant diversity and encouraging its better understanding through education.
10 Wollemi Facts:
1. Wollemia nobilis is a conifer but not a Pine – it belongs to the family Araucariaceae, a group of southern hemisphere conifers which reached maximum diversity during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, 200-65 million years ago.
2. It is currently known from one remote region of the Wollemi National Park, a 500,000 hectare wilderness zone in New South Wales, Australia, part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The locality, which remains secret, is a series of deep sandstone gorges clothed in temperate rainforest.
3. There are fewer than 100 specimens in the wild and DNA sampling has so far failed to find any detectable genetic variation - effectively the surviving population is clonal.
4. The tallest trees are up to 40 metres high (and at least 350 years old) with a one metre diameter trunk (though many individuals naturally coppice and produce a dozen or more slender trunks). The bark is bobbly and the evergreen leaves vary in length and width and shade of green according to the age of the shoots.
5. Mature trees bear male and female cones on separate shoots, the female cone (seed cone) being green and 6-12cm long, 5-10cm wide, taking 18-20 months to mature. Male cones are slender, 5-11cm long and 1-2 cm broad.
6. Modern micropropagation methods are used to provide sufficient new plant stock to both ensure Wollemia’s future survival as well as satisfy an enormous horticultural demand for what is undoubtedly a most distinctive and handsome coniferous tree with great ornamental potential.
7. In cultivation the tree is proving adaptable and robust, surviving temperatures between minus 5 degrees centigrade and 45 degrees centigrade as well as a wide range of soil types, though a well drained compost of pH 6 or less is preferable. It appears to be suitable for tub planting and takes sun or shade. Typical growth rate is half a metre annually.
8. The main pest is the root rot fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi.
9. Treborth’s tree is situated just beyond the rock garden in an open site and measured 120 cm at the time of planting.
10. Wollemia nobilis is available locally at Seiont Nurseries, Pontrug 2 miles south of Caernarfon.
5 August 2007
Do you know your bladder wrack from your channelled wrack or your sea slug from your sea squirt? After a fascinating day collecting and examining these and other seashore plants and animals, I feel much more confident about identifying wildlife in the intertidal zone.
We were blessed with fine weather and were taken by Paul Brazier of the Countryside Council for Wales and Nigel down to the shore of the Menai Strait below Church Island. It was a very low tide and we were able to look at the full range of species from the kelp seaweeds that are almost always under water up to the salt marsh plants, such as sea beet, and lichens that grow at the top of the beach. Many of us re-discovered our inner child as we turned over rocks and explored rock pools to fill up the buckets with samples. While we ate our picnic lunch we had a splendid view of the Treborth woodland from an unusual angle.
Then we went to the laboratory of the University’s School of Ocean Sciences in Menai Bridge with our booty. First of all Paul gave us a presentation and explained why the sea shore is so varied - the different substrata (eg rock, sediment), light levels, waves and topography around our coast create different habitats, within which the tidal range creates zonation from sea to strand line. It can be a very harsh environment: marine algae (seaweeds) have to withstand drying out as well as total submersion, and worms have to bury themselves in the sand or mud to protect themselves from the pounding waves or hungry birds. The variety of species is vast, and many do not have common names. We discussed the effects of climate change and the problems caused by alien species such as slipper limpets and sargassum seaweed.
After this talk we examined the specimens we collected in the laboratory. Under microscopes we could see the extraordinary beauty and complexity of many of the plants and animals. I was fascinated to discover that a finely branched red seaweed was actually tubular in form, and what seemed to be a kind of lichen in a very regular structure was actually a sea squirt, Star Ascidian. The baby lobster and the prawn were clearly uncomfortable under the heat of the microscope lamp and kept whizzing out of sight to the side of my Petri dish, but the sea slug was content to sit in one place and gently move its tentacles while I watched.
The Friends would like to thank Paul Brazier and Nigel for their teaching and patient explanations throughout the day (“Paul, what’s this blobby thing?” “Nigel, how do you tell the difference between a common and an arctic tern?”), Alice (Alison) Lawrence, also from the Countryside Council for Wales for her help, and John Turner for allowing us the use of the splendid facilities of the Ocean Sciences laboratory.
WEATHER AND WILDLIFE
April – July 2007
At the time of writing the last piece I commented on the continuing dry spell which had characterised February, March and the first half of April. Apart from downpours overnight 23/24 April the dry spell continued until 5 May with rain recorded on only 5 days in April including a continuous dry period of 20 days. By 5 May there had been just 269mm (10.6 inches) of rain in 2007 of which 130mm (5.1 inches) had fallen in the first three weeks of January. The ‘drought’ had also been accompanied by relatively high temperatures and, as a result, earlier than average appearances of many species of moths, some by three weeks. A shortage of earthworms at the soil surface probably accounted for higher than average mortality of blackbird nestlings in early spring.
However all was set to change; despite a promising start May slipped into unsettled mode with 60 mm (2.36inches) falling in 12 days mid month and an average daily maximum temperature of only 14.75. This time nestling birds were succumbing to damp, chill conditions and there were few spring butterflies – Orange Tip and Speckled Wood for example. On 27 May the temperature never exceeded 10.75 degrees, a remarkably low figure, just three weeks off Midsummer’s Day.
For seven glorious days in early June there was the hope that summer had arrived with anticyclonic conditions producing fine settled weather and temperatures reaching a respectable 23 degrees. But it was not to last! On 11 June there occurred one of the most dramatic meteorological events of the last 25 years. The morning began in fine style with 21 degrees at 0900 hrs; steadily the temperature rose until by lunchtime it stood at 23 degrees accompanied by an increase in air humidity. Then at 1300hrs the heavens opened – a 15 minute cloudburst delivered a staggering 20 mm of rain (0.78 inch) – it rained down so hard and fast that visibility was reduced to that of a sauna – indeed that’s how it felt! Pelting rain bounced a metre off the tarmac creating a dense shroud of mistiness, the road instantly became a river, the lawns a lake.
When it was over I rang the BBC newsdesk in Bangor to report that the Garden had just been jet washed; the receptionist queried my comments politely – “Why” she said, “I’m looking outside and the pavement is dry”! – this downpour had indeed been very local and had tracked from Pentraeth a few miles to the north via Llanfair PG (where Jane and Ivor Rees recorded virtually the same rainfall as Treborth.) Once I had convinced the lady at the BBC that I was not deranged, she invited me to the studio to talk about my meteorological experience. In the meantime, poor Llandovery had also experienced a cloudburst with more serious consequences and as a result captured the lunchtime headlines. But Treborth had the last word it seems; later that day good old Derek Brockway gave the Garden a plug on the Welsh weather bulletin and apparently so did national BBC Weather – family in England phoned late evening to say that they had been amazed to suddenly hear all about the Treborth cloudburst on the national weather bulletin. The value of a rain gauge eh?
Sadly wetness became the feature of the following 6 weeks and to make matters worse low temperatures too. Again there were repercussions for wildlife with high chick mortality among birds of prey and insect feeding migrants such as warblers. Comparison of moth catches between equivalent periods in 2006 and 2007 is interesting and may well be related to markedly different weather patterns (see tables below).
While it is clear that most species of moth are far scarcer this summer than last there are interesting exceptions eg Brussels Lace (Cleorodes lichenaria) a lichen feeder.
The appearance of 20 flowering shoots of Broad Leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), a local woodland orchid, confirms that this species is now well established at Treborth, though not in the woodland as one might imagine – it is restricted as far as I can tell, to the densely planted border adjacent to the road opposite the curator’s house, the perimeter fence area of the rhizotron and most recently to the root zone beneath a specimen birch tree (Betula grossa) planted a few metres from the curator’s kitchen window! It is hard to explain why it should be restricted so when there would appear to be suitable habitat elsewhere in the Garden and Woodland and of course orchid seeds are easily dispersed long distances. The specimens beneath the birch are particularly fine, a clump of four flowering shoots 75 cm tall and each bearing 30 flowers – I imagine that this plant may have been lurking there for a while but that in the past I have unknowingly mowed the emergent shoots – orchids such as helleborines have the capacity to survive with very little foliage apparent, relying on the nourishment of mycorrhizal fungi instead of photosynthetic activity of green leaves, and over a number years building up food reserves in their underground rhizomes which can subsequently fuel robust shoot development when conditions allow.
Finally, many of you will want to know how Henry/Henrietta is – that of course is the name(s) of an orphaned Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) which literally walked up to me one day even though I was sitting on a ride-on mower at the time. Clearly desperate for food this recent fledgling, almost certainly blown out of one of the Strait side nests before it had mastered flight and abandoned by parents too wary to descend to the woodland floor, had gradually made its way up to the main Garden and the ornamental pond. An urgent visit to the vets was called for and Ellis Jones kindly administered antibiotics and provided concentrates to revitalise the ailing chick. It was touch and go for 24 hours but the provision of sand eels from the department’s aquarium really did the trick – our heron lapped them up and visibly strengthened with every meal. I had only to appear with a yellow bucket and Henry expected food!
The Cool Glasshouse provided a suitable home for Henry with plenty of low foliage to hide or shade himself. But as he grew stronger he wanted to fly and of course that might spell disaster in a glasshouse so the decision was made to transfer him to a sanctuary on Anglesey for a period of wilding and wing strengthening and also because the weather by then was so unsettled and unseasonal that it was felt his chances of survival in the wild would be reduced. A few weeks later in early August I had the happy task of returning Henry to Treborth and releasing him - he flew vertically out of his carrying box on arrival and after a few tentative flights and awkward landings including an undignified attempt to alight on the highest branch of the tallest ash tree in the Garden he got the idea, lifted that bit higher and cleared the woodland canopy and headed straight for the Strait, his real home.
P.S. Louise Bastock, Treborth’s horticultural scholar, has just informed me that while I was away she was amazed to hear a sharp noise on the Temperate Glasshouse roof as she was watering on 21st August. When she looked up there was a Grey Heron walking around on the roof above her! Though clearly aware of Louise open-mouthed with surprise below, the heron casually prospected its glassy surrounds before moving on to the laboratory roof. Louise followed outside and heron and horticulturalist admired each other for a while, until, wary of a passing runner, the heron flew off. I think it was Henry! Nigel Brown
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