The Caucasus 2011
In September 2011, three colleagues from Botaniska travelled to Russia and the north-western Caucasus with permission to collect plants. A little more than a fortnight later, they returned home with their bags filled to the brim with seeds from wild, beautiful and unusual alpine plants and bulbs. Thanks to excellent collaboration with Russian colleagues, the collecting expedition was more successful than anyone had dared to hope.
Mats Havström, scientific curator, gardener Marika Irvine and Henrik Zetterlund, horticultural curator at the Gothenburg Botanical Garden are sitting poring over a map. They point, show pictures and talk enthusiastically about their adventures in the Caucasus, a trip that lasted from 1 – 17 September 2011.
Interesting flora in the Caucasus
"The flora in the Caucasus is very rich in species", Mats Havström tells us. It's also a very interesting mixture of species from Europe and Asia. In that region, there are many different kinds of habitat, and we visited both forests and alpine areas."
Henrik Zetterlund has been in the Caucasus on several occasions earlier. He has very good experiences of the plant material collected:
"We wanted to travel to the Caucasus since we know that plant material collected there has great potential", he says. "Most seeds seem to germinate usually and the plants survive many years' cultivation, even in our climate. Many garden plants in Western Europe come originally from this region."
First and foremost, alpine plants and bulbs were collected. One of the goals of the trip was to collect Primula renifolia. It grows wild only in the Caucasus and it is very seldom cultivated. Other coveted finds were Omphalodes lojkae, Potentilla divina and Crocus scharojanii. Caucasusian delphinium (Delphinium cacucasicum) was also collected.
"It was fantastic to see this relatively unusual garden plant in its natural habitat", smiles Mats Havström.
Unusually successful collecting trip
The expedition was more successful than anyone had dared to hope. An amazing 330 items were gathered by our Gothenburg colleagues! Every item consists of seeds from a certain species from a specific place. A total of 250 different species was collected, most of them very unusual under cultivation, but also with great horticultural potential.
"The whole trip was very well organised. Our Russian friends had arranged permits, stamps and local guides, so we just had to get going and collect stuff", comments Marika Irvine.
"We only had a very short time at each place of collection before it was time to travel on", continues Marika Irvine. "The seeds were put into small bags on which we noted the place of collection, altitude above sea level and species. At all longer stops during the expedition, we opened the seed bags so that the seeds would dry and not be damaged by damp."
Help from a local botanist
The expedition was accompanied by Dmitry Sergeevich, a botanist from St Petersburg who gave invaluable help. Thanks to him, the species of many plants could be identified on the spot:
"Most of the plants had already finished flowering at the time of our trip. Their species had therefore to be identified with the help of features like leaves and seedpods", Mats Havström tells us. "It can be complicated for anyone who hasn't got any local knowledge since many species are very unusual."
Best memories from the trip
Henrik Zetterlund describes one of his best memories as being from the evening when the tent was put up in a valley covered with a profusion of flowering Crocus vallicola:
"It just wasn't possible to find anywhere that was not full of flowers. We quite simply had to sleep on a bed of that very unusual species of crocus", he says delightedly.
All three speak very warmly about the dramatically beautiful landscape and the friendly Russian colleagues who organised the trip. They were accompanied on the expedition by colleagues from the botanical gardens in St Petersburg, Stavropol, Hamburg and Shanghai.
"The expedition has given us valuable contacts and friends from other botanical gardens around the world", they say. "We're going to have a lot of exchanges with each other in the future too."
"The only negative thing I can say about the expedition is that it was too short", concludes Marika Irvine.
The Caucasus in the Rock Garden
Botaniska's visitors can now enjoy the treasures that were gathered. However, not all of them, according to Henrik Zetterlund:
"For some seeds, it can take years before they germinate."
Also, some of the seeds collected are going to be used in seed exchanges with other botanical gardens:
"This year we're going to be able to offer many unusual and much-coveted seeds. Then we also have the opportunity to acquire many other attractive species in exchange", recounts a very satisfied Mats Havström. "Seed exchanges reduce the risk of species dying out during cultivation."
Loki Schmidt Memorial Expedition to Northern Caucasus
The collecting expedition was organised in memory of Loki Schmidt. She was a German friend of gardens who created a foundation to further exchanges between gardeners. The foundation is managed by the Hamburg Botanical Garden. It was funding from Loki Schmidt's foundation and a network of collaborating botanical gardens that made the trip possible. The Gothenburg Botanical Garden has contributed economically to the expedition via Göta and Svea Blomqvist's donation fund.