‘Di­rect ac­tion will save our wild plants’

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The first plant I ever grew

My fa­ther grew cacti and, in­spired by his col­lec­tion, I used my pocket money to buy a small, hairy spec­i­men, prob­a­bly

Cleis­to­cac­tus brookeae. It grew well un­til we re­lo­cated to Hong Kong when I was 11 years old.

The plant that shaped the botanist I am to­day

Black sal­sify, Scor­zon­era

his­pan­ica. Seen un­der a mi­cro­scope sal­sify and re­lated plants have beau­ti­ful, al­most crys­tal-like, pollen grains. I stud­ied how their pat­tern de­vel­ops, which can be used to un­der­stand the process of plant evo­lu­tion.

My favourite plant in the world

The mag­nif­i­cent coco-de-mer,

Lodoicea mal­divica, with its record-break­ing dou­ble co­conuts. I’m lucky to work with the Sey­chelles Is­lands Foun­da­tion, which pro­tects the World Her­itage Site where it grows.

The plant that made me work hard­est

I’ve seen the del­i­cate-look­ing, but re­ally rather tough, crim­son­pur­ple-flow­ered In­car­vil­lea

mairei in the moun­tains of South­west China. Al­though it’s a peren­nial I con­sis­tently failed to es­tab­lish it in my small gar­den in Ed­in­burgh.

The plant I’d like to grow more of

I’d like to be able to grow more daphne, which form such beau­ti­ful shrubs. I suc­ceeded nicely with Daphne tangutica, but I’ve never tried gold­en­flow­ered Daphne cal­ci­cola, which was so ad­mired by plant hunter Ge­orge For­rest in Yun­nan, China.

The plant I am in hu­man form

I’m te­na­cious and de­ter­mined in ar­gu­ing the case for con­serv­ing plant di­ver­sity and think a wind-rav­aged pine or fir cling­ing stub­bornly to a wind-swept moun­tain­side, such as the ones I’ve climbed in Yun­nan, comes clos­est.

The plant that helped shape my life

At school in Chel­tenham I helped our bi­ol­ogy teacher trans­plant a group of stink­ing helle­bore,

Helle­borus foetidus, which were threat­ened by de­vel­op­ment to a safer site. I’ve known since then that some­times only di­rect ac­tion will save wild plants.

The plant I’d al­ways give as a gift

Ev­ery­one has space for a house­plant. I like to choose Den­dro­bium or­chids, which take me back to my child­hood in the hill­sides of Hong Kong. Stephen Black­more’s new book How Plants Work is pub­lished in Novem­ber by Ivy Press. RRP £30.

Stephen fos­tered a child­hood in­ter­est in cacti to be­come an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned botanist

The huge seed of the dou­ble co­conut

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