The iCONic Project is a Perthshire Big Tree Country initiative which has been set up to pioneer the conservation of threatened conifer species around the world.
Earlier this year members of the project team travelled to Chile to secure the long term conservation of three threatened conifer species in the South American country.
And today it was announced that project botanists will be setting off later this month on a major expedition to Japan to collect seed and specimens from populations of rare and threatened conifers across the country.
The seed collectors include Tom Christian, head of the iCONic project, and Peter Baxter, curator of Benmore Botanic Garden in Argyll which is part of Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (RBGE). They will be joined by colleagues from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
Mr Christian said: “Plans for this expedition have been in the pipeline for some time and this will be a second major milestone for the iCONic Project this year, the first being our seed collecting trip to Chile which took place in January.”
He explained: “The main aim of the expedition is to collect seed on location at Honshu and Shikoku, where we will target populations of the endemic conifer Japanese umbrella pine which is near-threatened, and Japanese Douglas fir which is classed as endangered. Other rare species we will be looking at include two highly threatened spruces, Picea koyame and Picea maximowiczii.”
The collected seed will be couriered back to the UK where they will be placed into quarantine by an expert team of horticulturists at RBGE. The rare seedlings and young plants are destined for a range of carefully selected sites within Perthshire which will act as safe havens for the trees.
Said Mr Christian: “Our plantings will help to underpin the global conservation of these species. Even in Japan many species remain highly threatened, many of them have suffered from historic logging, or habitat loss and degradation. Often they occur only in fragmented or highly restricted populations, partly as a result of the historic threats, and as such are susceptible to sudden and severe decline through, for example, typhoons and forest fires, even within protected areas.”
A spokeswoman for the project said: “One of the best known examples of umbrella pine in Scotland grows in the Victorian pinetum at Scone Palace in Perthshire. Many species from temperate areas of Japan are extremely hardy and can easily cope with Perthshire’s cold winters and some, like the spruces and silver firs, actually seem to thrive on it. “
There are an estimated 722 species of conifer across the globe and around half are threatened with extinction in the wild.