West Coast in bloom for rhodo­den­dron fes­ti­val

Argyllshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

IN­VER­ARAY Cas­tle and Ar­d­u­aine Gar­dens spring into bloom as the Scot­tish Rhodo­den­dron Fes­ti­val be­gins this month, of­fer­ing ‘rhodo walks’ around 20 es­tates in Ar­gyll and the Isles un­til May 31.

The fes­ti­val, or­gan­ised by Dis­cover Scot­tish Gar­dens, aims to en­cour­age lo­cals and tourists ‘to en­joy the won­ders of Scot­land’s gar­dens dur­ing the rhodo­den­dron flow­er­ing pe­riod’, as swathes of bright yel­lows, pur­ples, pinks and reds brighten up the dullest of days.

VisitS­cot­land ex­plains: ‘The rhodo­den­dron is a huge fam­ily of around 1,000 species, from small moun­tain shrubs to mag­nif­i­cent tree-like spec­i­mens.

‘Rhodo­den­drons re­quire acidic soil to thrive and some of their nat­u­ral habi­tats in­clude the Hi­malayas, Ja­pan and China. Luck­ily for us, most soil in Scot­land is nat­u­rally acidic, mak­ing it a great place for these beau­ti­ful shrubs to flour­ish.’

The cu­ra­tor of Ed­in­burgh’s Royal Botanic Gar­den, David Knott, said: ‘Rhodo­den­drons make such a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion and pro­vide fan­tas­tic dis­plays in many Scot­tish gar­dens. They range in height from large tree­like plants, to dwarf alpine shrubs, and de­pend­ing on the weather there will be rhodo­den­drons in flower from Fe­bru­ary right through to Au­gust. Many will have al­ready be­gun to bloom in gar­dens across the coun­try, de­spite the re­cent bad weather.’

How­ever, when rhodo­den­drons es­cape these beau­ti­ful gar­dens, con­tro­versy can fol­low. Last year Scot-

tish ecol­o­gists work­ing on the West Coast dis­cov­ered na­tive plants need a help­ing hand if they are to re­cover from the ‘in­va­sive’ species.

A study in the Jour­nal of Ap­plied Ecol­ogy re­vealed that – even at sites cleared of rhodo­den­dron 30 years ago – much na­tive flora has still not re­turned. As a re­sult, rhodo­den­dron erad­i­ca­tion pro­grammes may need to be sup­ple­mented by re­seed­ing for the orig­i­nal plant com­mu­nity to re-es­tab­lish.

Work­ing in the At­lantic oak wood­lands of Ar­gyll, Kin­tyre and Lochaber on Scot­land’s west coast, re­searchers from the James Hut­ton In­sti­tute, the Univer­sity of Aberdeen and Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage found that – even 30 years af­ter rhodo­den­dron re­moval – the na­tive un­der­storey nor­mally found in At­lantic oak wood­lands had not re­cov­ered. In­stead of dra­matic dis­plays of prim­roses, vi­o­lets, wild gar­lic, ferns and grasses, only dense mats of mosses and liv­er­worts had re­turned.

Lead au­thor Dr Janet Ma­clean said: ‘Un­in­vaded At­lantic wood­lands are of­ten called the Celtic rain­for­est. With their gnarled, lichen-cov­ered trees, rich car­pets of moss and burns tum­bling down rocky ravines, they look like some­thing from Lord of the Rings.’

‘In spring, lux­u­ri­ant car­pets of blue­bells cover the ground, in­ter­spersed with the fid­dle-heads of the di­verse fern species start­ing to emerge.

‘Sadly, rhodo­den­dron-in­vaded wood­lands present a dif­fer­ent vista, vast stands of this sin­gle species re­plac­ing all the di­verse na­tive flora as far as the eye can see. The for­est floor be­comes a dark, bar­ren place de­void of life apart from the dense rhodo­den­dron stems bar­ring the way in all di­rec­tions,’ she says.

The paper added: ‘Since it was first im­ported in 1763 to brighten up our gar­dens, rhodo­den­dron has be­come one of Bri­tain’s most dam­ag­ing in­va­sive species.

‘Rhodo­den­dron has spread through­out the UK, af­fect­ing around 827,000 hectares, and is par­tic­u­larly wide­spread across western Scot­land and Snow­do­nia.

‘Erad­i­ca­tion pro­grammes cost around £8.6 mil­lion a year and the re­sults of this study show that – as well as re­mov­ing rhodo­den­dron – land man­agers should also con­sider clear­ing mats of com­mon mosses from the ground and re­seed­ing with typ­i­cal wood­land grasses and flow­er­ing plants.’

In­ver­aray Cas­tle, pic­tured, Ben­more Gar­dens and Ar­d­u­aine Gar­den will be host­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and ‘rhodo’ walks for all the fam­ily, along­side 17 other es­tates in Ar­gyll and the Isles.

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