The National Botanic Gardens has had a long history of involvement in the cultivation of the native flora of Ireland. One of our most remarkable survivors is Carex buxbaumii (Club Sedge). David Moore, Curator of the Gardens from 1838 to 1879, was the original discoverer of this plant on a tiny island in Lough Neagh in July 1835. The species has never been found anywhere else in Ireland, and is currently known from just four sites in Scotland.
By 1890 the plant was extinct due to scrub clearance and cattle grazing on Harbour Island. This had been its sole locality in the British Isles until its discovery in W. Inverness in 1895. However, David Moore, appreciating its great rarity, and no doubt his personal attachment to his ‘discovery’, had transplanted the sedge to the National Botanic Gardens.
These plants were thence distributed further afield by another champion of the Irish flora, Robert Lloyd Praeger, who moved to Dublin in 1893, and would have been acutely aware of the plant’s significance. He in turn passed the plant on to Arthur Stelfox who grew a large collection of Irish sedges in his garden in Co. Down. In 1964, shortly before his death, Stelfox gave plants to Donal Synnott. Donal in turn brought plants back to the National Botanic Gardens, from where they had originated, but had since died out
This remarkable chain of transfers illustrates two valuable lessons. Firstly the sharing and distribution of the plant has proved its salvation. Secondly the record keeping, albeit much of it by word of mouth, enables us to be confident the plants we have are of the true Lough Neagh stock.
At the gardens we will be experimenting to see what triggers flowering in the plant (it seems to require a warm spell in early spring), and bulking up the plants to use in a public display. We are exploring options for a possible reintroduction programme with the Environment and Heritage Service (Northern Ireland).
As well as Carex buxbaumii, we are developing programmes for five other species of threatened Irish plants: Carex depauperata, Parapholis incurva, Ranunculus tripartitus, Saxifraga granulata and the extinct Matthiola sinuata. In collaboration with the Irish BSBI members we are also hoping to develop a pot-collection of native plants that will provide a useful research and demonstration tool.