The march of the flowers.

Yes it’s a fact, we humans just wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for plants and it’s that amazing group, the flowering plants, which have the biggest impact on our lives. They come hand in hand with the insect pollinators which we, and quite rightly, are very worried about at the moment.

The two (insect pollinators and flowering plants) evolved alongside each other from the very early (probably a carnivorous wasp or a sawfly) insect finding the pollen and sap of the plants (probably) nutritious. It wasn’t long before the plants had harnessed this power.  There is fossil evidence of the weird Gnetales (Ephedra, Welwitschia and Gnetum) that are always found in association with a long extinct sawfly. But it’s not the Gnetales that I am particularly interested in it’s another group the Gigantopterids which are believed to have survived two great extinctions to evolve into the flowering plants we have today.

Ephedra nevadensis growing on our windowsill.

So what does all this mean to us, here, in North Wales?

Well in my last blog I wrote about the first flowering plants, the ANITA group and we have many representatives from this group. It wasn’t long before this group of plants had evolved. In fact the race was on to attract the insects and thus benefit from their pollination. The current system of Taxonomy places all plants other than Amborella, nympheaceae and Austrobaileyales (which now includes Illicium, the I in ANITA) in a new group called the Mesangiosperms. It’s now we get to the point I have been trying to reach……

A group of Mesangiosperms evolved very early on in the Cretaceous called the Eudicots they don’t have as ancient a ancestry as the ANITA group but it did provide a group of plants called the Proteales which includes the Nelumbonaceae (lotus), Plantanaceae (plane trees) and Proteacae (proteas, banksias and the like). All super adapted to attracting pollinating insects and even in modern time’s birds, reptiles and mammals. It’s the Proteas that over the past 6 months have absorbed the minds of both me and Ben.

It’s not that we became obsessed or anything! But this rather odd and basic group of plants aren’t grown much in the UK and certainly very few members of the family are grown in North Wales.  So if we were going to be able to grow them successfully we had to do our research.

We have spent hours poring over plant lists trying to figure out which species are most suitable for us and discussing soil structure to accommodate their unique needs.

The fact is that these plants are primitive. They don’t develop an association with a mycorrhyzalfungus like other plants and their roots develop differently to other plants too (it makes them sensitive to disturbance). They need free draining acidic soil (most can’t deal with damp roots) and they fade at even the thought of phosphates as a form of nutrition. How would we possibly cater for all their whims?

Three of four species of Banksia from Australia growing from seed.


Now, after developing a list of the plants that we think may survive up here in Snowdonia and finding out where we can buy them from too (that’s been most difficult, we have had to start growing some from seed… but that’s another story), we have decided to bite the bullet.

We have had to create a special border in the garden which has been a project for the past couple of weeks. We dug out the soil to about 18 inches and have built it up by about 12 inches to accommodate a mix of sand, flint gravel and subsoil (mostly sand and gravel). Ferrying sand and gravel from the builder’s yard and DIY store in car loads and each time being dismayed that the hole wasn’t full yet. The bed is finally finished and ready to be planted. So we are now on a mission to collect together the required list of plants.

Banksias in flower, can you understand why we wanted them so badly?

The list looks like….

Telopea truncata

Lomatea ferruginea

Banksia canei

Banksia paludosa

Protea subvestita

Protea Susannae (it was named after naturalist Dr John Muir’s wife)

Grevillea victoriae

Leucadendron laureolium

pin cussion protea, very beautiful but alas not hardy enough for us! :-(

And maybe a few others but we may be pushing it at that!

The story will no doubt continue and certainly the debate regarding winter protection is on-going. We will keep you posted!