Giant plants make epic journey from Edinburgh to Port Logan

  • In Science
  • 2022-10-02 08:18:12Z
  • By BBC

Five massive tree ferns have made an "epic journey" from Edinburgh to the south-west tip of Scotland.

The heaviest of the 20ft (7m) tall plants weighed in at 350kg (770lbs).

The Dicksonia antartica tree ferns have been growing for nearly 150 years in glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

Due to refurbishment work, they have been moved to a new outdoor home 145 miles away at Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer.


The complex operation took place on Thursday as part of a project to restore the historic glasshouses in Edinburgh.

The tree ferns were too tall to dig up and move easily so the team involved cut the "trunks" - which are actually a mass of roots - and later replanted them which will allow them to regenerate in their new location.

Prior to being transferred, the two-metre long fronds at the top of each fern were removed then the top four metres of each "trunk" were carefully taken out and prepared for their long journey.

At the end, they were replanted - outside for the first time in their lives.

Sadie Barber, research collections and project manager at RBGE, said it had not been easy to come up with an answer to how to move the plants.

"To enable the glasshouse restoration, we are now in the process of transplanting plants from our ferns and fossils glasshouse for safekeeping," she said.

"However, specimens such as Dicksonia antarctica and Thyrsopteris elegans are massive and grow tightly together along narrow, winding paths.

"Finding solutions to lifting and moving them safely in such a confined space has been quite a challenge."

RBGE horticulturist Kate Miller said moving the tree ferns should allow them to flourish in future.

"The efforts that we are taking just now are just aiming to make sure that these plants are able to continue living and their stories can continue to be told once they are out of this glasshouse," she said.

"What we are doing is sending them down to Logan - that's one of our outpost botanic gardens - and that's really closer to a sub-tropical climate garden than we've got up here.

"What we are all expecting is that they will be able to establish themselves quite well there and then continue to grow for another 100 years or so."

Ms Miller said "months and months" of planning had gone into the delicate operation of moving the plants.

The layout of the glasshouse made their removal "quite challenging" as they cut through the base of the plants and created safe areas for them to fall before wrapping them in damp hessian for transport.

"We are essentially making large cuttings - if you can imagine that," she explained.

They were then loaded into a trailer to be taken down to the gardens at Port Logan.

"It should establish quite quickly and continue to be quite a healthy specimen," said Ms Miller.

"It is incredibly vital that this work is carried out.

"These are hugely important plant species, and it is essential that we continue to work as hard as possible to maintain them and keep them going."

The curator at Logan, Richard Baines, said he was confident the plants would thrive in their new home.

"In Edinburgh, the plants require the warmth of the glasshouses but, as Logan is warmed by the Gulf Stream, we can grow plants from throughout the southern hemisphere outdoors," he said.

"We are sure that the tree ferns will thrive in their new surroundings."

The Dicksonia antarctica will still have a place in Edinburgh in future despite the recent transplant of some of them.

Four have remained in the city to be replanted once the upgrade project at RBGE is complete.

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