Sunday, 6 October 2013

Home again

I have returned safe and sound back to the UK. I had an excellent time in Korea and would like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and dedication. The story doesn't end here however. I will continue to update you on here with the fruits of our labours. Until then, thanks for following my blog. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Abies koreana

Today our main objective was to track down some wild Abies koreana and Pinus koraiensis. These trees used to be abundant in Korea, but due to the Korean war in the 1950s much of the native population was destroyed.

Most of the Pinus koraiensis and Abies koreana that adorn the hillsides in Korea today have been planted in an attempt to rejuvenate the native population.

However, for the purposes of seed collecting we would prefer a seed from a wild population to that of a planted population.

On a tip from the Korean Forest Service we returned to the construction site of the new Korean arboretum.

Here we found a population of Pinus koraiensis, but unfortunately for us this season's cones had all opened and the seed was gone.

Timing is key for these kinds of expeditions but sometimes it takes a little luck, which sadly, was lacking this morning.

Undeterred we pushed on and managed to collect the seed from a Pinus densiflora (from a very unusual source) before pushing on to the Sobaek Mountain National Park in search of the elusive Abies koreana.

Ki-Cheol stood in front of the Pinus densiflora
Bonghwa to Sobaek Mountain National Park

To our delight our luck turned and we found some nestled on the ridge of a mountain and collected the seed which was in abundance.

Abies koreana clinging to the ridgeline

After collecting the seed we travelled to Yeongju, where we we lucky again to find that it was the opening day of their local Ginseng festival. We weren't entirely sure what was going on, but it was enjoyable nevertheless!

Ginseng Festival

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Cheongsong to Juwang Mountain National Park
Today we visited the Juwang Mountain National Park, this is a very picturesque area. We managed to collect seed from several trees and enjoyed breath taking views. Today I had my first chance to climb a tree to collect seed. The tree I climbed was a Platycarya strobilacea and I really enjoyed getting my feet back off the ground again.
Russell giving Michiel a helping hand

Views of Juwang Mountain National Park

Platycarya strobilacea
Collecting seed in the canopy
After lunch we were taken to the construction site of the new Korean arboretum and seed bank. The site is approximately 4000 hectares with 200 hectares of formal gardens. This is a very ambitious project but the construction is coming along very quickly. Michiel kindly parted with some advice and experience and it was very much appreciated by the Koreans.

Juwangsan National Park to Bonghwa

Construction of new seed bank

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


Daegu to Yeongcheon
This morning we drove from Daegu to Yeongcheon, here we went up Bohyun mountain in search of seeds and in particularly Abies koreana, a fir native to the mountains of South Korea. The mountains are easily accessible by roads here and we were able to park in an observatory car park. Undeterred by the warning signs about venomous snakes we set off into the hills. In recent times, hiking has become a very popular pastime in Korea, and with this has come very well maintained paths and walk ways which made life a lot easier.
Keum Seon and Michiel collecting Rhamus davurica
Russell at the summit of Bohyun mountain

Unfortunately very few of the trees we came across had seed but we did find some collectable Abies koreana seed so all was not wasted. We also took a healthy collection of Rhamnus davurica, which although is not endemic to Korea and is native to the south Asian region, was still worth collecting.

From there we travelled to Cheongsong-gun to our hotel for the evening.
Yeongcheon to Cheongsong-gun
We visited a local restaurant for dinner and I have found from that how much I appreciate finding Oreo biscuits in a local supermarket. After dinner we cleaned and sorted the collected seeds into trays so they can begin to dry out and began pressing the herbarium specimens.

Abies koreana male and female herbarium specimens

Collected seeds drying

Monday, 30 September 2013

The KNA and hitting the road.

This morning woke up early to bid farewell to Kev who has now returned to England. After a quick breakfast in a local cafe we were met at our hotel by Ki-Cheol, who drove us to the Korean National Arboretum (KNA). Unfortunately today I did not have any time to look around the arboretum itself, only enough to meet and greet, have a quick overview of the route we would be taking over the next few days and get the equipment we needed for the collections before we were whisked away by our hosts for lunch.
The Seed Bank at the KNA

Ki-Cheol showing us the route
We were driven a short way into the countryside until we came to a small restaurant. This was my first real experience of true Korean cuisine and I was shocked to find myself trying everything there was. Many dishes of various descriptions were laid out on the table and it was a case of helping yourself.

After lunch we set of on a long five and a half hour drive to Daegu in the south. Unbeknown to us however, in Daegu it is the first day of the Korean National Paralympics so finding a hotel was challenging to say the least. Luckily our second guide Keum Seon is from Daegu and she knew just where to look.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Packing again...

I once again find myself in the position of having to pack! I am now sorting out the gear I will need for the upcoming week of collecting seeds from the south and east of Korea. As you can see it's not a small list of things and once you throw the harness in, the rope in, and all the other bits and pieces it does become quite a weight to carry around. Tomorrow we will rise early and bid farewell to Kev from Bedgebury who is returning to the UK and then for me, the real fun begins. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Trying to adapt...

I have successfully orienteered my way half way around the globe and now sit typing this blog from my hotel room in Seoul. I was greeted at the airport by Ki-Cheol, one of our guides for the expedition who kindly drove me for 2 hours through Seoul rush hour to my hotel. I have met up with Michiel, Russell and Kev who have already been here for one week. They have told me that they have been having a very successful time so far and I look forward to hearing more about it tomorrow.

My one hiccup, as there is always one hiccup, was that I have brought the wrong adapter with me. Should I need to charge my laptop/phone/camera in New Zealand or Australia then rest assured I will be just fine. Fortunately for me the kind man on the hotel reception has provided me with an adapter, albeit and adapter for my adapter. Where there is a will...there's a way.
My goal for the rest of the evening, what little there is left of it, is to sleep off my jet lag.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Today's The Day

After much planning and organising with my colleagues from Wakehurst, Bedgebury and the Millennium Seed Bank, the day is finally here. I fly out to Korea today to join up with the team who are already out there. I will be joining onto the second half of a two week expedition. I hope to be able to bring you updates of my trip (wifi depending) as I travel around the country collecting seeds. Just a few last minute items to pack!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

First visit to Wakehurst

Today, accompanied by Mark Ballard and Dan Crowley, I visited Wakehurst Place to meet with some of the other members of the seed collecting team. 

We met in the Millennium Seed Bank to discuss where the project was and how the initial planning phases where coming together. 

We briefly touched on the list of trees that we are hoping to find whilst in Korea. One particular line of enquiry that caught my attention was the prospect of bringing back some seed from native Asian ash species.
Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place 
As almost everyone is probably aware due to its high media coverage, the British landscape is currently under a threat from Chalara fraxinea, or, as it is more commonly known, ash dieback disease. C. fraxinea causes ash trees to lose their leaves, experience crown dieback and will usually result in the tree dying.

Scientists are currently researching within native species of ash to find resistant trees that may possess genes that are able to withstand the attacking fungus.

However, searching for resistant trees within non-native species is much more of a challenge, as most non-native ash trees within the UK grow as specimen trees in arboretums such as Westonbirt, or in people’s gardens and private collections.

This lack of population (specimen trees commonly grow on their own) also means that there is a lack of potential genetic variation to find resistant trees amongst.

By taking a population sample from non-native species in their natural environment – as we plan to do in South Korea – the search for resistant trees can be carried out with a larger and genetically more varied sample of non-natives.

If genes resistant to C. fraxinea are found amongst the seeds we collect, there may in the future be the opportunity to hybridise and produce a new and resistant species of ash.

Although this may not be a very fast solution to the problem and will not prevent the threat that knocks on our countryside’s door, I am still very excited to be part of the process.

If you are concerned about ash dieback disease and would like to learn more,
please take the time to read this.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Living, Growing, Dying

Westonbirt arboretum was created in the early 1800s by an ambitious and equally wealthy man by the name of Robert Holford.  Holford, as was his want, created the arboretum for his own pleasure. However, to say that the arboretum was created can come across as mildly misleading, a more appropriate wording would be to say that this is when it began. The reasoning behind this wordplay being that Westonbirt is an ever changing, living, growing and dying collection. It almost exists itself as an organism. When one tree gets to the end of its life another‘s is just starting. One of the many things Holford spent his money on was financing plant-collecting expeditions. Plant collectors such as David Douglas would bring back species from all over the world, many of which still grow in the arboretum today. 

Since then the arboretum has grown and developed, spreading across the valley into Silk Wood until in the 1950s when it was placed into the hands of the Forestry Commission where it remains. Westonbirt has now grown to become the premier tree collection in the uk. You would be hard pressed to pick up any good book on trees, flick to the index, run a finger down to 'W' and not find Westonbirt's name. The arboretum now comprises of over 2500 different species from around the world. It is an invaluable source of education and understanding, not to forget a great day out. 

Several seed collecting expeditions have happened over the years, the most recent of which was to Japan. The trip helped to develop the arboretum’s tree collection with more diverse species of maples amongst other trees. The trip also forged a good relationship with the University of Shizuoka and the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute of Japan. These are key successes that we wish to repeat with our upcoming trip to Korea. 

The Holfords may be gone from Westonbirt, but their passion for gathering new plants and expanding the collection still remains.  Evidence of this can be found in the words of Simon Toomer, the director of Westonbirt, who has said…

"New trees and shrubs are the life-blood of the arboretum and seed collected from naturally-growing trees is invaluable for collections with scientific objectives such as Westonbirt."

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Something to look forward to...

I am working as an arborist at the UK's premier tree collection Westonbirt Arboretum. I have been given the exciting opportunity to go on a seed collecting expedition to South Korea in September of this year. With me will also be going someone from Bedgebury PinetumWakehurst Place and Kew, The Royal Botanic Gardens. I am yet to meet these people, but I hope to introduce them to you all very soon. I am starting this blog not only to track my own progress through the adventure, but also to give anyone who is interested an idea of the world of seed collecting from the view point of someone taking their first steps into it.