Saturday, 18 May 2013

Eden Project

I recently returned from the second stage of botanical garden tour. The garden I visited is one unlike any other, The Eden Project. More a grand socio-architectural statement than a collection of plants Eden is without doubt very impressive even if the plants don't always take centre stage.

The Mediterranean Biome at Eden, April 2013 

From the lip of a disused china clay pit a steep track makes a zigzag descent to Eden. At the top of the slope I was distracted from my introductory wander by a stand of large rugose-leafed plants. These were Balm-leaved Figwort, Scrophularia scorodonia. This species has a very limited distribution in the UK, being confined to the south-west and I can not recollect having encountered it previously. However since my return I happened upon this species in my home town of Aberystwyth where it has escaped from the garden of the late Ceredigion botanist J. H. Salter (Chater, 2010).

Scrophularia scorodonia,
Eden Project, April 2013

Following my informative tour (with Tim Pettitt) I began surveying in the Mediterranean Biome. A couple of hours of crawling through the prickly arid scrub yielded a number of surprised looks and a wide range of weed species. These included the ubiquitous, the unidentified and the probable intentional introductions. One species in this latter category was Tall Rocket, Sisymbrium altissimum. A frequent weed in most of urban Britain it still presented a slight puzzle for a occidental botanist such as myself.        

Sisymbrium altissimum, Mediterranean Biome,
Eden Project, April 2013

Moving then to the Tropical Biome, a confusing situation for any attempt at the eternally complex question of defining 'what is a weed'. Many ground cover species had clearly been introduced for the express purpose of going 'wild' so, while they were self propagating, this was their intended purpose and, therefore, not a 'weedy' characteristic. Anyway, the most virulent coloniser was a species of a family with which I was not previously familiar; the Acanthaceae. This tropical family is well represented in UK tropical houses and seems very geared toward vegetative colonisation. The identity suggested for this by someone (I can't remember or find his name) at Eden was a species of the genus Nelsonia.              

Probable Nelsonia sp.
Tropical Biome, Eden Project, 
April 2013

The Tropical Biome was also full of insect life. Particularly noticeable was the White-footed Ant, Technomyrmex albipes. This tropical tramp species, originally from the Indo-Australian region, has recently colonised western glasshouses and has rapidly become a significant pest at the expense of other tropical ant species. In at least one case it was purposely introduced to control another ant species. At this task it  excelled, but, as evidenced by many such examples, the biological control agent replaced  the problem rather than eradicating the problem (Boer, et al., 2008).  

Probable Technomyrmex albipes on a Strelitzia flower ,
Tropical Biome , Eden Project, April 2013

Leaving the Biomes I noticed a tiny red splash of colour among the gravel. This was the Mossy Stonecrop, Crassula tillaea. This species has a rather scattered distribution and seems to be spreading. Of the three records for North Wales shown on the BSBI map I know two of the sites are car parks at popular tourist destinations. I presume that it is being spread on car tires from one car park to the next on the wheels of unsuspecting holidaymakers.     

Crassula tillaea, Eden Project, April 2013

Wandering out through a wooded area I came across a planted glade of primroses and cowslips as well as two plants of their hybrid Primula x polyantha. This hybrid is frequent almost whenever the parents meet and probably arose in situ. This is also the parentage of a number of the showy horticultural Primula varieties.

Primula x polyantha,
Eden Project, April 2013

Boer, Peter, and Bert Vierbergen. "Exotic ants in the Netherlands (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)." Entomologische Berichten 68.2 (2008): 29.
Chater, A.O., 2010, Flora of Cardiganshire. Self published, Aberystwyth.

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