News and Events - Saving the endangered Japanese birch

Wednesday 25 November 2015

The Forestry Commission's experts have successfully germinated seeds of the Japanese birch (Betula chichibuensis) at National Pinetum at Bedgebury, near Goudhurst in Kent. The seeds were collected last year from one of the world's most critically endangered tree species, so rare that only 21 were recorded to have grown in the wild in 1993. The Japanese birch is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is the first time in nearly 30 years that anyone has succeeded in germinating seeds of the Japanese birch, and their success boosts hopes that the species can be saved from extinction.

Dan Luscombe, dendrologist at Bedgebury, said: "I consider myself very fortunate to have seen such critically endangered species in the wild. However, to be part of the team that can make such a significant contribution to securing the survival of a species in the wild is really exciting and rewarding.

"Propagation from seed collected from trees growing in the wild is essential to the future of endangered species, because this retains their genetic diversity. This helps make the species resilient to threats such as pests, diseases and climate change. If we only grew plants from cuttings from our own collections we’d simply produce a clone." Luscombe continues: "We face lots of challenges on a seed collecting expedition, such as remote and difficult locations, limited and infrequent fruiting times, adverse weather conditions and permits. So this successful germination is particularly exciting, and a credit to the combined knowledge and skills of the group.

"The seedlings will be grown on at Bedgebury and, once they are strong enough, some will be added to the collection at Bedgebury Pinetum and others will be shared with Oxford University. The remaining seeds will be stored in the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst in West Sussex. Distributing them to different sites minimises the risk to the collection and leaves open the option of returning some seeds or seedlings to Japan for planting out in the wild if conditions there are right."


Contact: Forestry Commission