Working to conserve rhododendrons

R. sperabile var weihsiense. Photo: Linda Robertson
R. sperabile var weihsiense. Photo: Linda Robertson
Rhododendron is not the first genus that springs to mind when we think of endangered species. After all, many of our gardens are brimming with them and one in particular, R. ponticum, is a rampant weed in some parts of the world.

However, the "Red List of Rhododendrons", a conservation study by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, shows three species are now extinct and 25% of rhododendron species are "under threat of extinction in the wild".

Until recently, conservation efforts for rhododendron have been quite random. However, in April 2018, recognising the need for a more co-ordinated global approach to rhododendron conservation, BGCI facilitated a workshop on remedying this. Seventeen people from 14 different countries, including New Zealand, developed an action plan to ensure the future of the world's most threatened rhododendron species was secure.

Tying in perfectly with that aim is the New Zealand 2015 initiative led by Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust and Massey University's Marion MacKay to establish a Rhododendron Conservation Collection. Dunedin Botanic Garden is closely involved with the project and the Rhododendron Dell contains specimens of R. formosum (assessed as critically endangered), R. mallotum (endangered) and R. sperabile var weihsiense (vulnerable).

Along with others in the botanic garden collection, these plants form part of the Rhododendron Conservation Collection which will play a significant role in global rhododendron conservation.

• The Friends of Dunedin Botanic Garden Rhododendron Day plant sale is Sunday October 20 from 9am to 1pm in the upper botanic garden car park.

Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Doug Thomson.


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