All posts by iufroseedwg

The plant hunters – ‘fruitful’ collections from Italy

by Matt Parratt and co,  Forestry Commission, GB

Seed collecting trips often seem to be to exotic locations, gathering taxa from far flung corners of the world to add to collections held by botanic gardens back in the UK. However, as a recent trip to southern Italy demonstrates, there is also great value in collecting much closer to home.

The UK National Arboretum Westonbirt is home to some 15,000 specimens encompassing 4,000 taxa. The arboretum is best known for its stunning displays of autumn colour, but it also has an important role to play in plant conservation and research. As part of the ongoing expansion and enrichment of the collection the arboretum has an active programme of seed collecting expeditions, most recently to southern Italy.

Our first stop was Sicily where we hoped to track down two populations of Tilia platyphyllos subspecies pseudorubra. Local knowledge is key to these trips, and without the assistance of Professor Giovanni Spampinato and Dott.ssa Vittoria Coletta we would almost certainly never have found these trees. The first population consisted of just a few trees, perched high on the walls of a deep ravine formed by a seasonal river in the Riserva Naturale Orientale Fiumedinisi a Monte Scuderi.

Tilia platyphyllos high on the steep sides of a ravine in Riserva Naturale Orientale Fiumedinisi a Monte Scuderi

The accessible trees had already lost much foliage due to the hard drought in the region this year, but we were able to secure a good sized sample of fruits which cut tests in the field showed to have healthy contents. Interestingly, the foliar characteristics didn’t match those of subspecies pseudorubra, but as seed of T. platyphyllos had never been collected from Sicily before this was an important accession.

The second population was more speculative, the location having come from a herbarium sample taken over a decade ago. As we drew closer to the co-ordinates the track deteriorated significantly forcing us to leave our vehicle behind and continue up the steep hill on foot. It became obvious that there were no Tilia trees in the vicinity, and the exposed, hot dry habitat was unlikely to have been home to them in the recent past. Despite disappointment this still constitutes a positive result, disproving the existence of a population is still useful!

From Sicily we hopped across the strait of Messina to mainland Italy and the Stretto Papaleo wildlife refuge in Parco Nazionale dell’Aspromonte. As on Sicily we had to negotiate a steep sided ravine, but this time we had to contend with a shallow but fast flowing river – getting wet feet was essential! After a fruitless recce up a steep side valley we started to see the distinctive winged bracts and fruits of Tilia on the gravelly river banks and suddenly there were the trees! Another small population of a few trees, but this time matching the descriptions for subsp. pseudorubra and therefore a first accession of the subspecies from Italy for Westonbirt.

Buoyed up by our success the next day we headed up into a different part of Aspromonte, and on to a different species – Abies alba. This part of Italy is the location for several glacial refugia for this species and one population in particular at Serra San Bruno has sparked much interest in forestry circles. However, our target population was further south, near Gambarie in Aspromonte National Park. There were lots of cones, but the vast majority were out of reach – and many were less ripe than we had hoped. Again, without local knowledge we could have spent a long time searching for suitable trees, but Dott. Antonio Siclari was able to take us right to the most likely areas – and fortunately for us spotted a Southern Italian Asp (Vipera aspis hugyi) before any of us could get within striking distance! Having neatly avoided the venomous reptile we found sufficient cones to make a collection albeit via some intricate pole pruner work. Westonbirt propagator Penny Jones is hopeful she will be able to harvest sufficient viable seed to grow back in the UK.

Collecting Abies alba cones near Gambari in the Parco Nazionale dell’Aspromonte, Calabria.

As with all seed collected on these trips this will be x-rayed by Forest Research colleagues at Alice Holt which will not only give us insight into the number of filled seeds, but also the presence of insect larvae which is an important biosecurity measure. Together with a collection made by local foresters from Serra San Bruno we hope that some of the plants produced from this seed will be available for research into potential future provenances for forestry in the UK.

After just three days we already had two of our three target species in the bag, but for the home of the National Collection of Maples, the collections of Acer lobelii were especially important. The species is reasonably widespread in cultivation in the UK, but Westonbirt Dendrologist Dan Crowley suspects that the vast majority of these are from just one or two clones.  Our first two locations were superbly co-ordinated locally by Dott. Pasquale Santalucia and Dott.ssa Daniela Rinaldi from Regione Campania. Pasquale had mobilised a group of local foresters who had already tracked down one population and collected a good amount of seed for us which gave us a little more time to focus on a high elevation population growing in the vicinity of the Santuario della Madonna di Nova Velia, perched at 1700m AMSL atop Monte Gelbison. Apparently the views here are spectacular, unfortunately we were surrounded by thick drizzle and mist – though that did lend a lot of atmosphere to the location. The trees here were already turning colour, but thankfully there was also plentiful seed, a lot of which was filled with bright green embryos. Another excellent collection!

We had one final location to visit, this time in the Parco Nazionale del Pollino.  Our local contact, Dott.ssa Vittoria Marchianò had recently located another Acer lobelii with seed on, but as we only had time to visit one site the following day our only option was to head out the evening we arrived in Pollino National Park and collect the seed by torchlight! The following day we headed across the Park to the Riserva Statale Valle del Fiume Argentino, a steep sided wooded valley which Vittoria had visited earlier in the year to confirm that they were bearing a good crop of fruits. More nimble pole pruner work was required, but we secured our final collection from a mature tree on the riverbank at 206m AMSL, 500m below the minimum altitudes stated in the literature. With these 7 accessions from different populations of A. lobelii, the species is now considerably better represented in cultivation – provided germination is successful!  Whilst collecting this species it was increasingly apparent that there is a considerable morphological variation, particularly in characters such as the glaucousness of young stems, and the hairiness of leaf undersides; hopefully the plants raised from these accessions will exhibit this range too.

Rudina Aspromonte Italy
Professor Giovanni Spampinato, Dan Crowley (Dendrologist, Westonbirt), Mark Ballard (Curator, Westonbirt Arboretum), Vittoria Coletta, Penny Jones (Propagator, Westonbirt), and Matt Parratt (Research biologist, Forest Research)

Without the knowledge and help of local colleagues these important collections wouldn’t have been possible. Our thanks for their help, their expertise, and also for their incredibly warm welcomes go to Prof. Giovanni Spampinato and Dott.ssa Vittoria Coletta of the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria, Dott. Antonino Siclari of Parco Nazionale dell’Aspromonte, Dott. Pasquale Santalucia and Dott.ssa Daniela Rinaldi of Regione Campania, Dott. ssa Vittoria Marchianò and Dott. Giuseppe De Vivo of Parco Nazionale del Pollino, and Dr. Fulvio Ducci of the Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA) and Forestry Research Centre (CREA-SEL).


IUFRO WG 2.09.01 Seed Orchards Conference – 4-6th September 2017.

I would like to thank Tomas Funda and his team for organizing a very interesting and informative conference in Bålsta, Sweden (4-6th September 2017). The conference covered a range of seed-related topics including tree breeding, seed orchard design and management, cone/seed health, seed pests and pathogens, and seed processing, testing and storage. This provided a natural link from seed orchards to nursery production. The next IUFRO WG 2.09.01 Seed Orchards Conference will be in Nanjing, China in 2019/20. I urge you to support our colleagues in IUFRO WG 2.09.01 and make every effort to attend this conference.


I recently attended the 4th Seed Meets Technology Event in Zwaagdijk, the Netherlands. This B2B event provides opportunities for businesses to pitch and often demonstrate their latest products. These products include: counting, disinfection, priming, pelleting, and drying machines, ranging from small-scale laboratory to large-scale commercial versions. The highlights included:

·    40 stands/exhibitors;

·    >1000 visitors; and

·    10 lectures on a range of topics including image analysis hard- and software, sensors, dashboards etc.

The next event is 25-28th September 2018. (


BGCI and our partners invite your valuable contribution to an online Seed Conservation Knowledge Hub!

Initial activities in 2017 are focused on building a directory of facilities, individuals, and expertise related to all aspects of seed conservation of wild plants. More details can be found at

Please complete the form at the link below – it only takes 7 minutes! The information you provide (apart from your contact information, unless specified) will be included in an online directory hosted by BGCI. You have until 30 September, 2017 to become part of this exciting new seed conservation tool.

Visit to access the form.

Thank you for supporting the development of a resource that will benefit the broader seed conservation community. If you have any questions or any trouble accessing the form, please email We apologize for cross posting.

Thank you!

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) in partnership with the United States Forest Service, the Lyon Arboretum, and the National Tropical Botanical Garden

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It is with a heavy heart I must inform your members of Ben’s passing after a brief illness. He had recently moved to Pembroke to be closer to his wife Helen in the retirement home. Ben’s family was at his side and many colleagues paid a visit and had a brief chat with him during his brief stay in the hospital. A ceremony to lay his ashes will be held at the Petawawa Research Forest on July 26th in amongst some of the trees Ben germinated from seed. Of course some tree seed will be sown in his honour. Steve D’Eon, Canadian Forest Service.





logoI have attached a link to the above conference, which will be held between September 4-6, 2017 in Bålsta, Sweden. Please support our colleagues in IUFRO Working Party 2.09.01 “Seed Orchards”. 

The goal of this conference is to provide the opportunity to exchange scientific advances related to forest tree seed orchards and their integration in the forestry practice. These include links between seed orchards and long-term tree breeding; seed orchard design and management; forest pathology in relation to seed production, seed testing and storage; seed physiology and technology; forest economics; gene conservation; and interaction of seed orchards with related disciplines.

Important dates are:

31 May 2017 – Abstract submission;

23 June 2017 – Abstract acceptance;

30 June 2017 – Registration.


Farewell to Ben Wang

Ben WangIntroduction to ‘guest blog’ (by Shelagh McCartan)

In 2006, I was lucky enough to meet Ben Wang at the IUFRO conference in Fredericton, Canada. Ben has had a long, productive, and interesting career. At the age of 90, he has decided to ‘retire’! We wish him all the best in the future!

Guest Blog by Ben Wang (just retired)

Hello Friends

It has been 50 years since I started to work with tree seed at Petawawa Forest Experiment Station , Petawawa National Forestry Institute and Petawawa Research Forest as a research Officer, research scientist and emeritus research scientist. After 34 years of tree seed testing  and research with the National Tree Seed Centre, I retired in 1994 and continued with some consultancy, visiting scientist and volunteer work in tree seed.  I would  like to tell you friends that I had a very  interesting career in Tree seed for which I must express my  appreciation to Dr. Milan Simak of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences who led and organized the IUFRO Tree Seed Group following the 1973 International Symposium in Bergan, Norway. It was Dr. Simak’s leadership that we had many years of fruitful  interesting tree seed work done internationally. In Canada, we were lucky to have the Tree Seed Working Group and  I am happy to see the Tree Seed Working Group’s News Bulletin are continued worldwide readership after 33 years.  I have a plea to our colleagues that there are more in-depth work required in seed science and technology for us to discover. Good luck and good- bye.




This year has whizzed by yet again – a blur of activity in a changing and sometimes challenging research landscape!

In our unit, I am concerned with the dwindling number of tree seed scientists world-wide. This year, we lost a core member, Marnie Light, who has taken up a research role in the palm oil industry. Marnie was our deputy co-ordinator for the past three years. On behalf of this unit, I would like to thank you for your enthusiasm, input and particularly web-master skills. We will miss you!

I also would like to remind everyone that this blog is the main means for communication in our IUFRO Unit 2.09.03. Please send me information on techniques, jobs and conferences, which I will upload as soon as possible. I am also looking for guest bloggers for 2017. I would like to publish one blog per month. So if you are interested, then please contact me for further details.

Wishing you all the very best over the Festive Season and for the New Year ahead!





Seed collecting in the British Virgin Islands

Introduction to ‘guest blog’ (by Shelagh McCartan)

Rosemary Newton is an ecologist with a seed background. She is based at RBG Kew, UK. In her blog, she discusses the prickly challenges of collecting seeds for conservation.

Guest Blog by Rosemary Newton ( Career Development Fellow (Islands) at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK)

One of the strategic outputs of the Science Strategy of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is to bank 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.  Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) Partnership is working with partners in 80 countries to achieve this target.  One of these partners is the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands (NPTVI), based on Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in the Caribbean.  The Flora of the West Indies documents approximately 940 seed plant species (including non-native species) recorded from the four largest islands in BVI.  The vegetation on the islands comprises mainly tropical dry forest, dry scrub, mesic forest in the higher elevations, salt ponds in low-lying areas and mangrove swamps along the coast.  Since 2003, 112 seed collections of 82 plant species have been made by Kew and NPTVI staff from eight of the approximately 60 islands that comprise the BVI archipelago.

In June 2016, Kew’s United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team travelled to the British Virgin Islands to launch a Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs) project, the aim of which is to assess and map TIPAs in the BVI to enable local authorities to prioritise their protection and conservation efforts.  Following the workshop which was held at the J.R. O’Neal Botanical Gardens, the UKOTs team and regional collaborators embarked on day trips to previously unexplored areas on the islands of Tortola, Beef Island, Virgin Gorda, Great Tobago and Prickly Pear in search of new, rare and threatened plants and also to map the occurrence of invasive plant species.  A new species for the MSB which we were able to collect seed from was the spiny legume Pictetia aculeata, endemic to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.


Tom Heller and Colin Clubbe collecting Pictetia aculeata seed on Beef Island

Many of the plant species on the islands possess spines or thorns, which makes moving through dense vegetation a painstakingly slow process!  One species of Cactaceae, Opuntia repens, made an unforgettable impression on the team as we made our way across the island of Great Tobago.  Commonly called the jumping cactus, this plant has perfected the art of vegetative reproduction, as segments readily break off from the plant when touched and the barbed spines attach securely to clothing and even the covered skin beneath.  We very quickly learned not to try to remove the segments with our bare hands but to carefully flick them away with a stout stick.  Although the primary mode of reproduction and dispersal in this species is vegetative, these plants produce very attractive flowers.


The jumping cactus, Opuntia repens, in flower on Great Tobago

An attractive native tree that we encountered and that is widespread across the region is Coccoloba uvifera of the Polygonaceae, locally known as the sea grape.  This dioecious plant is useful for coastal dune stabilisation as it is both wind resistant and salt tolerant.  It is also an attractive ornamental shrub, with the female plants producing large bunches of edible fruit that are purple when ripe and that are consumed raw, used to make jam or fermented to produce sea grape wine.  Unfortunately, we were unable to collect seeds from this species on this trip as the fruits were still green and so not yet ripe.  However, the MSB does have a couple of seed collections of this species conserved in the bank from other localities.



Coccoloba uvifera, commonly known as the sea grape, with unripe fruits

Fruits on the islands form an important part of the diet of indigenous iguanas.  On the limestone island of Anegada we met up with Kelly Bradley from Fort Worth Zoo, a conservation biologist studying the Critically Endangered Anegada iguana (Cyclura pinguis).  This species was reduced to a population of fewer than 300 individuals due to pressures from feral domestic animals, in particular cats, which kill hatchlings and juveniles for food.  In 1997 a headstart facility was built to enable conservationists to rear hatchlings in captivity.  This facility has been successfully rearing animals until they are large enough to survive alongside cats and can be released back into the wild.  Whether the passage of seeds within fruits through the iguana’s gut facilitates seed dispersal and promotes germination or is detrimental to seed viability is still largely unknown.  As the iguanas’ range became restricted to Anegada during the last deglaciation, the role of the iguana in recruitment of fruit-bearing plants is being investigated by Kelly and Kew staff member, Martin Hamilton, with NPTVI colleagues.


A juvenile Anegada iguana at the headstart facility

As a relatively new member of the UKOTs team, this field trip was a memorable introduction to the unique flora of BVI and the challenges facing plant conservation in the region.  On this trip we were able to collect seed from plant species on Prickly Pear and Beef Island, two new localities for the MSB.  In total, 12 collections of eight species new to the MSB were accessioned.


Thanks to Dr Martin Hamilton for organising the logistics, Kelly Bradley for showing us the Anegada iguana headstart facility, and Kew, NPTVI and Puerto Rico colleagues for sharing their knowledge and expertise of the local flora.  The BVI TIPAs project is funded by HSBC through the 150th Anniversary Fund and the seed collecting work is funded by the Garfield-Weston Foundation through the Global Tree Seed Bank Project.  Regional collaborations and capacity building for NPTVI staff are being made possible through the Darwin Plus funded project [DPLUS030]Building systems and capacity to monitor and conserve BVI’s flora”.