One of the rarest plants in the country has been helped to regain a strong hold by a team of scientists and horticulturists from the Eden Project and Natural England.
The Lizard juniper (Juniperus communis ssp. hemisphaerica) is a subspecies found in only one location in the country on Cornwall’s Lizard peninsula.
Just six years ago, the population had dwindled to only 13 plants in the wild. With so few plants, the subspecies was at risk from being wiped out by a wildfire or grazing animals so Eden and Natural England took cuttings and started growing new plants at Eden’s nursery near Pentewan.
Recently, nearly 200 of these Eden-grown junipers were planted in a secret location on the peninsula near to where the existing wild population grow, to establish a new colony.
Protected by an electric fence, the new juniper plantation is the culmination of six years’ work and will hopefully result in a wild population that will thrive again.
Even though the plants are now in the ground, the project doesn’t stop here. The Eden team are aiming to grow more plants from seed collected from the Lizard, with the aim of introducing these to the wild too.
Mike Maunder, Eden’s director of Life Sciences, said: “Eden is delighted to be working with Natural England to preserve this highly threatened tree.
“This project exemplifies an integrated approach to plant conservation that combines our horticultural resources with on-site management in the wild. Working with a range of partners, we look forward to continuing to play a significant role in the conservation of threatened plants from the south west of England.”
Steve Townsend, Natural England’s Lizard reserve manager, said: “Although still incredibly rare, the Lizard juniper is a little safer today with 200 new strong young junipers planted in the wild. What happens next is up to nature.
“We won’t be acting as gardeners, these plants are hardy enough to survive and thrive on the national nature reserve. The natural partnership of Eden expertise and Natural England’s conservation team has enabled us to safe guard one of the UK’s rarest plants.”
Junipers are conifers which can vary widely in size, although the Lizard juniper is a low spreading shrub. Juniper berries are most notably used to flavour gin but they are also used in some northern European cookery.