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Berries and seeds from our plants

By Peter Whish

Work on our National Lottery Heritage Fund award is well underway now and autumn is a busy time too for all our plants as they ripen this year’s berries and their seeds within.

Part of our work is to conserve the plant collection both in-situ and by distributing plants and seeds to other botanical collection holders.

Our new Plant Heritage Officer Annelise and Craft Gardener Paul have been collecting seeds from some of our best and most notable trees and shrubs for the Millenium Seed Bank, held by Kew Gardens at Wakehurst Place in Sussex.

The seed bank aims to save plants throughout the world which are most at risk and valuable for the future.

Whilst some of plants are beginning to show some autumn leaf colour our chalky soils do not give the fiery tones associated with more acid conditions as you might for example find in the Sussex Weald. Autumn at Highdown is however notable for its fantastic displays of berries.

Gorgeous orange and red Cotoneaster, coral Spindle berries and shining blue Clerodendron seeds garland our borders in a sumptuous display.

2019-10-26 - Red Cotoneaster C.franchetii Sterniana (left) and Clerodendron tricotomum fargesii (right)
Photo: Red Cotoneaster C.franchetii Sterniana (left) and Clerodendron tricotomum fargesii (right)

There is plenty to go round which is a good job as we compete with Blackbirds and Blue and Great Tits who have begun feasting on the autumn glut.

We have been trained by the Seed Bank to collect, clean and cut test the seed to ensure that they are good, ripe and viable. In the picture you can see the perfect cut seed of our Euonymus grandifloras salicifolius.

We have two large specimens growing on the thinnest of soil near the bungalow and clothed with light pink berries.

2019-10-26 - Euonymus grandiflorus salicifolius fruit (left) and cutting one of the seeds open (right)
Photo: Euonymus grandiflorus salicifolius fruit (left) and cutting one of the seeds open (right)

The seed is then recorded and together with a pressed dried leaf sample for the herbarium are kept in cold storage until they are needed for research or to raise new plants.

We have a great team of volunteers at the garden who help with all manner of horticultural tasks and this week some will be joining us for another training session to help us collect, clean and sort seeds.

We will also be growing some seed ourselves to restock the garden and to distribute to other living collections.

Our Viburnum betulifolium is one of our best berrying shrubs with cascades of bright red translucent berries hanging like redcurrants from its tall spreading branches.

Covered in white flowers in June this is one of the plant hunter E.H. Wilson’s introductions from western China and grown from seed at Highdown all those years ago.

Photo: Viburnum betulifoilum

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