Orites flowers - Photo courtesy of Pieter Pelser

Orites flowers – Photo courtesy of Pieter Pelser

18 months after getting the nursery off the ground we embarked on a new challenge. We were given the opportunity to do some research into a strange member of the protea family from the mountains of Chile. Radal Enano (Orites myrtoidea) as it is known locally, is an Endangered species that has so far proven difficult in cultivation. Hopefully we can unlock the secret to growing this species and make it secure in gardens away from its threatened home.

a Orites seed

a Orites seed

ICCP and RGBE to the rescue for Chilean flora.

Since 1991 the International Conifer Conservation Program (part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh) has been working to document and conserve Chile’s threatened conifer forests and the biodiversity they hold. Just over 5000 taxa are native to Chile of which 46% are endemic; this percentage is the highest for any South American country. Approximately 60% of the flora and the endemic species are concentrated in Central Chile, one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots.
projects have included field surveys and inventories, the establishment of private protected areas, post graduate training in taxonomy and conservation genetics, undergraduate training in botanic garden practices and horticulture, and genetic analysis of threatened conifer and angiosperm species in the wild and in cultivation. You can find out more HERE
Orites myrtoidea seed-heads (image courtesy of ICCP)

Orites myrtoidea seed-heads (image courtesy of ICCP)

Germination is easy, the challenge is keeping them alive!

Restricted to just 15 locations in the Andes Mountains and growing between 760m and 2100m in altitude, Orites myrtoidea is normally found growing either in the alpine zone on volcanic soils or in association with Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana) and Southern Beech trees (Nothofagus sp.).
It is severely threatened in its natural habitat by dam construction for hydro electric power schemes and road construction.
Bringing the species into cultivation so that it can be conserved ‘ex-situ’ has not proven easy. Whilst the seed germinates readily they do not survive long and die very quickly.
Knowing that the team from ICCP were out in Chile during March 2017 we asked if there was any thing that I could do to assist with the predicament Orites faces.
Martin Gardner, the projects lead, was pleased to collect and send us seed so we can hopefully assist in unlocking this plant’s secrets and make it secure in cultivation here in the UK.

Orites myrtoidea has only ever been grown in the UK successfully twice, at Benmore Botanic Gardens and at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Unfortunately it has performed poorly in cultivation and the plant at Benmore died.

We hope to find the key to growing it successfully here.