Fears for Botanics plants as vital glasshouse heating system fails

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A MAJOR operation is taking place to rescue a rare century-old plant collection which has been plunged into crisis due to a heating system failure in a glasshouse.

The boiler heating the research glasshouses at the Capital’s Royal Botanic Garden has packed in, putting the future of some of the rare plants in doubt.

A heating system failure may have put hundreds of plant species at risk. Picture: TSPL

A heating system failure may have put hundreds of plant species at risk. Picture: TSPL

The glasshouses are home to more than 3,000 species, including some that exist nowhere else in the world, and need to be kept at a temperature between 22C and 24C.

Industrial sized heaters have been brought in as an emergency measure to keep the plant collection alive, although they are only able to heat the glasshouses between 12C and 14C.

One of the species in the glasshouse is a pelargonium insularis from the Samhah Island in the Socotra archipelago of Yemen.

It was discovered in 1999 and propagated from a single plant. It is now believed to be extinct in the wild.

Engineers are hoping to fix the heating system on Sunday with experts anticipating the plants will survive the scare.

If fixed as expected, the plants will have gone a whole ten days without their required heating system.

Fiona Inches, glasshouse supervisor, said: “Luckily we have had some warmer weather recently. If this had happened during the cold weather last month things might be different.

“We have a 40-year-old main feed pipe in the boiler system which is out of date. We are planning on getting it replaced.

“By the time it is fixed it will have been ten days since the problem was discovered.

“It has been a hectic week or so constantly checking the climate and having around ten diesel heaters and 20 further industrial electric heaters in operation. The usual system heats 80 per cent of the 
glasshouses so its vitally important that it is operating again as soon as possible. We would also love some sunshine to help us too. This has never happened before so I’ve been really impressed with how everyone has helped out.”

This collection has taken more than 100 years to build up and is continually evolving. It contains many species new to science.

More than 20 per cent of plants are threatened with extinction around the world, which highlights the importance of the 100-year-old collection.

The work done at the Botanic Gardens is underpinning global conservation programmes and not replicated anywhere else in the world.

The Titan Arum, dubbed the world’s smelliest plant, native solely to western Sumatra, and western Java is within the glasshouses with staff expecting it to be fine.

Fiona added: “The Titan Arum is looking good so far despite not having as much heat.

“It is still at its leaf stage so it is not as vulnerable at this time and should be fine.

“Hopefully there is no major damage done to the flowers. I’d like to thank everyone for their efforts so far working night and day to make sure the plants won’t suffer.”