On 11th Feb 2017, Robert Unwin, one of the foremost authorities on alpine plants and trilliums, came from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to talk to us about his plant collecting trip to the eastern USA in 2011.
The trip was mainly, but not exclusively, focused on collecting trilliums. The RBGE already had a collection of trilliums but they had all come from cultivated stock, and they recognised a need to collect wild specimens in the campaign to preserve biodiversity.
Plant collecting is no longer the gentleman’s hobby of yesteryear. Any plant collecting trip must be accompanied by permits from both the country where the plants will be collected, and the country where the plants will be rehomed. The paperwork is not for the faint-hearted: the trip has to have a scientific justification, and the party members must be aware of all the steps needed to be taken to avoid collected invasive species or diseased plants. On top of that, it has to abide by CITES rules, which, amongst other things, dictate which plants may or may not be collected (no orchids then, no matter how tempting!).
The trip was timed to coincide with the season when most of the plants would be in seed, although the team didn’t restrict themselves to seed. Seeds are not genetically identical to their parent plant, so it was preferable to collect rhizomes wherever possible – but of course rhizomes are not as plentiful as seeds so they could only collect one or two at a time.
Have a look at the slideshow below for a selection of the plants the RBGE team collected – with varying degrees of success!