National Plant Collections
The United Kingdom’s National Plant Collections are managed and supported by Plant Heritage as a means of documenting and preserving specific plant families for the future. This registered charity was started in the 1970s by a group of passionate horticulturalists and botanists under the original title of National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG). While the original name succinctly describes the group’s aims, in 2009 it was re-named Plant Heritage. Their mission is to maintain the diverse genetic heritage that makes up British horticulture for future generations.
As production of plants became increasingly commercialised and streamlined during the 20th Century, many varieties ceased to exist. Concerned about this loss of plant varieties, the group’s aim is to conserve, rediscover and reintroduce rare cultivated plants by encouraging propagation. To achieve this, they established officially accredited National Plant Collections as a means to catalogue and preserve plants for posterity. One of their first tasks was to gather all the known information about common and rare plants. An extensive survey of all nurseries was undertaken resulting in publication of the first RHS Plant Finder. This resource is continually updated as a unique plant reference guide. Additionally, in 1991, the NCCPG compiled a ‘Pink Sheet’ to identify rare and endangered plant species with the aim of conserving these plants.
Today there are 660 National Plant Collections covering 95,000 plants. A further 1,200 rare and endangered plants are nurtured by Plant Guardians. Most of the National Plant Collections concentrate on just one related groups of plants such as camellias, daffodils or azaleas. The scheme catalogues, manages and oversees the species and monitors new cultivars. One of the most important tasks of the National Plant Collections is to maintain and grow existing species that might otherwise simply die out as new cultivars are introduced to the market.
The holders of the National Plant Collections are volunteers who have a specific interest in their chosen plant species. Anyone can apply to be the accredited holder of a National Plant Collection with almost half of the collections held in private ownership. Some holders are specialist horticultural nurseries while others are long-established estate gardens, universities, agricultural colleges, botanical gardens, the National Trust and even city councils. While others are inspiring individuals who have dedicated their time to preserving a piece of botanical heritage. However, they all have to conform to the ideals and stringent requirements laid down by Plant Heritage as the overseers of this extraordinary scheme.
National Plant Collections remain a huge resource and are cared for by gardeners who are passionate about their particular genus. While many may be amateur gardeners, they are all experts in their field. Without them, and the plant collections they maintain, many plant varieties would have died out long ago.
Examples of National Plant Collections include:
Asters at Picton Gardens, Worcestershire
Cornus at Newby Hall Gardens, Yorkshire
Epimedium & Liriodendron at RHS Wisley, Surrey
Erica & Calluna at Nymans, West Sussex
Eucomis at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
Fagus & Hosta at Highgrove Estate, Gloucestershire
Heliotropium & Lantana at Hampton Court Palace, Surrey
Juglans at Upton Wold, Gloucestershire
Magnolia at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall
Morus at The Royal Household (Buckingham Palace!), London
Prunus at Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Yucca at Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire