Posts Tagged ‘Tree Team research trips’

Renewing Westonbirt’s links with Japan (part 5) – catching up with an old friend, by Mark Ballard

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Westonbirt Arboretum’s Director, Simon Toomer, and Superintendent, Mark Ballard, are currently in Japan for two weeks to collect seed from the wild. The trip will help to develop Westonbirt’s tree collection with more diverse species of maples and other trees from this temperate climate. The team wish to thank the private donor with a passion for plants and science who has funded this trip.

Chichibu University Forests – Day 9 & 10

We meet another old friend at 8.00am on Thursday in our hotel lobby, Dr Takashi Masaki of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba. It was just like old times and great to catch-up, as we had spent many days collecting seed together back in 2008.

The road to Chichibu

The road to Chichibu

We wasted no time in heading for our next destination, the Chichibu University forests, some three hours drive to the west. Takashi had arranged for us to meet university officials at the forest office in Chichibu City, and they gave us a brief presentation about the area and native flora. He had also sent them a copy of target species list, so they already had the best places for us to go in mind. After a tempura and noodle lunch, we headed for the mountains in two vehicles, accompanied by a local member of staff to guide us.

Chichibu Forest Office

Chichibu Forest Office

No sooner had we reached our first stop, and we bagged Acer crataegifolium (Hawthorn Maple) in a sunny location next to a path. We then moved higher to a forest road next to a beautiful river, with clear pools of aquamarine water that looked very inviting on a hot day. We are getting to visit some spectacular places that most people will never get the chance to see.

Lots of other target species were collected during a really productive afternoon. Into the bag went: Meliosma myriantha; Mallotus japonicus; Styrax obassia; Stachyurus praecox; Euonymus oxyphyllus (Korean Spindleberry) which has fantastic autumn colour; and Zanthoxylum piperitum (Japanese Pepper Tree) which has edible fruit and medicinal uses. We collected seed from a dozen plants in total, and headed for our hotel, also booked by Takashi.

Us at work

Us at work

The next day we set-off for a different part of the Chichibu forest, which was yet higher still and equally scenic. We made ten collections, including Acer capillipes (a snake bark maple) and Acer japonicum (Full Moon Maple). But what we will all remember most, is Takashi shaking the branches of a large walnut tree (Juglans mandschurica) with his huge telescopic pole, and lots of nuts falling from sky like giant hailstones. At that point we understood why we had each been issued with a hard hat the day before.

Dr Takashi Masaki

Dr Takashi Masaki

At around 5.00pm we said goodbye and thank you to our kind hosts, who had been incredibly helpful and had issued us with the essential plant permits. They were actually very honoured that we had travelled so far to collect seed from their native trees and shrubs. We headed back to our base in Tsukuba, driven the many miles, of course, by Takashi. We arrive there late, and straight away get stuck into the important tasks of seed cleaning and recording field data.

A couple of days rest now, until the final part of our adventure in the University Forests of Chiba to the south, with Takashi once again.

Renewing Westonbirt’s links with Japan (part 4) – Mount Fuji, by Simon Toomer

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Westonbirt Arboretum’s Director, Simon Toomer, and Superintendent, Mark Ballard, are currently in Japan for two weeks to collect seed from the wild. The trip will help to develop Westonbirt’s tree collection with more diverse species of maples and other trees from this temperate climate. The team wish to thank the private donor with a passion for plants and science who has funded this trip.

Sunday 9th October

It’s Sunday morning and we’re having a quiet day staying in a high rise hotel in the city of Tsukuba, an hour’s train ride north of Tokyo. The brief respite in collecting gives us an opportunity to open and repack all the seed gathered so far and update the plant records. It’s also a chance to catch up on sleep and consider the trip so far.

Bags of seed in hotel

Bags of seed in hotel

The two days spent on the forested slopes of Mount Fuji produced some valuable plants that we missed on our last trip. Once again we were helped by staff and students from the University of Shizuoka including PhD researcher Mizuki Fukushima who drove us along the winding forest tracks far removed from the usual tourist bus routes up Fuji. There were also memorable views of the mountain as we approached from the industrial sprawl to the south.

Approach to Fuji

Approach to Fuji

One notable tree that we hoped to collect was Torreya nucifera, known to the Japanese as kaya. This relative of the yew can be quite illusive beneath the more conspicuous giant beeches, firs and oaks and, although we found a number of trees, we couldn’t spot any green plum-like fruits among the evergreen foliage even with the aid of binoculars. But then with time running out and our hopes diminishing, we located two fruiting plants and, with the help of long-handled pruners, managed to collect a reasonable number of kaya ‘nuts’.

Mizuki collecting kaya

Mizuki collecting kaya


Kaya

Kaya

We also collected other valuable plants including two maples: horned maple (Acer diabolicum) and Nikko maple (Acer maximowiczianum). The latter was a real surprise as we had not expected to see it here and had a stroke of luck when Mark spotted a large old tree with a recently shed large limb (probably during the recent typhoon) laden with ripe fruit – the prize delivered on a plate!

The forests around Fuji are designated as National Forest Parks and we were very fortunate to be given special permission to collect seed by the equivalent of the UK’s Forestry Commission. We dropped in at the local forestry office where we met the local forestry chief, Mr Sakamoto, who told us about the forests and their management.

Renewing Westonbirt’s links with Japan (part 3) – a successful few days, by Mark Ballard

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Westonbirt Arboretum’s Director, Simon Toomer, and Superintendent, Mark Ballard, are currently in Japan for two weeks to collect seed from the wild. The trip will help to develop Westonbirt’s tree collection with more diverse species of maples and other trees from this temperate climate. The team wish to thank the private donor with a passion for plants and science who has funded this trip.

Monday 3 October 2011

Its late in the evening and the first chance we’ve had to send an update for a while, as we’ve just spent two very busy and very successful days deep in the Naka-kawane Forest.

View of Naka-kawane mountains

View of Naka-kawane mountains

We were picked-up early on Sunday morning at our hotel in Shizuoka by Professor Hiro Mizunaga, and were accompanied on our journey westward by five Indonesian forestry students. They were also guests of Shizuoka University, looking at Japanese silvicultural practices and forest management issues at the same location.

Indonesian, Japanese and British group photo

Indonesian, Japanese and British group photo

Once at the Naka-kawane Forest we met-up with Mizuki Fujishima, a research student, and Taichi Kajikawa, a local forest guide.  Both helped us on our last trip back in 2008, and it was good to see them again.  We wasted no time in setting-off in a 4×4 vehicle up the mountain, along a very steep road with an almost vertical drop to one side.  We passed through plantations of ‘Sugi’ (Cryptomeria japonica) and ‘Hinoki’ (Chamaecyparis obtusa), and each wondered how these montane forest trees would be harvested in future.

At an appropriate spot amid dense native woodland we then carried on on foot, on the look-out for target species with good seed. Our guides proved invaluable, and it doesn’t take us long before we are spotting the trees we have travelled so far to see. First up was Acer micranthum, one of the snake bark maples, other species of maple, or ‘Kaede’ in Japanese, quickly followed. Acer diabolicum, known as the Devil Maple because of horns on the seed, Acer carpinifolium, Acer sieboldianum and Acer palmatum subspecies amoenum are all in the bag. We also collect seed from lots of other interesting tree species: Styrax japonica (Japanese Snowbell), Stewartia monodelpha; Kalopanax pictus (Castor Aralia) and Carpinus Tschonoskii (Hornbeam) to name but a few.

We continue to climb steadily higher until we can go no further; the recent typhoon has caused a landslide taking with it a huge chunk of road. No worry though, as we see things on the way back down that weren’t obvious at first glance. The views out over the tree covered mountain range are breathtaking, and we each feel very fortunate to be here. Lots of photographs are taken and Simon continues to film proceedings with a small hand-held camera.

The end of the road

The end of the road

The day ends at the mountain lodge, where we each give power-point presentation to the group of Indonesian students and Japanese university staff. There are plenty of questions as everyone is very interested in the arboretum and the work that we do. Simon, Ted and I settle down to sleep in a shared room, after a few hours cleaning seed and recording the all important field data.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

After a quick ‘fusion style’ breakfast, we are all back up the mountain, although we take a different route today and leave the vehicle much sooner than the day before. We climb an incredibly steep path from 1,000m to 1,600m above sea level, stopping to collect seed on route once again. We are led by the sound of a bell used to ward off bears, which is worn by Taichi, who we previously named the ‘mountain goat’ due his ability to easily skip across the toughest of slopes.

The mountain goat

The mountain goat

Before the day is over, we had made more seed collections and now have 25 in total. Lots of useful discussions take place between the group members concerning identification of key plants, which is always a valuable part of these trips.  We manage to bag Quercus mongolica (Mongolian Oak), Picea jezoensis (Yezo Spruce), Picea polita (Tiger Tail Spruce), Tilia japonica (Japanese Lime) and Rhododendron pentaphyllum.

We did not have time to grab any lunch today, but instead lap-up the view and stunning scenery once again, before making the tricky decent. Once back at the lodge, we show our appreciation for the help we have received with gifts of Westonbirt calendars and Wakehurst Place notebooks. Then we begin the long drive back to Shizuoka, feeling tired but very happy with our expedition so far. We arrive back after 7.00pm, grab a quick dinner of rice and noodles, before taking care of the seed and records as always. It’s late to bed after that, but we’re really looking forward to an exciting couple of days ahead on Mount Fuji from tomorrow morning.

Renewing Westonbirt’s links with Japan (part 2) – Tokyo, by Mark Ballard, Superintendent

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Westonbirt Arboretum’s Director, Simon Toomer, and Superintendent, Mark Ballard, are currently in Japan for two weeks to collect seed from the wild. The trip will help to develop Westonbirt’s tree collection with more diverse species of maples and other trees from this temperate climate. The team wish to thank the private donor with a passion for plants and science who has funded this trip.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Day four of our trip comes to a close and things are going to plan so far, Japan really is an amazing country, just as we remember it. Getting here was our first challenge, the flight was about 11 hours and we are now 9 hours ahead of GMT, which meant we lost some sleep time somewhere on route. Despite a little tiredness, Simon Toomer, Ted Chapman (RBG Kew/Wakehurst Place) and I are all very excited and eager to get cracking.

First stop was Tokyo, and as soon as we arrive we drop off the bags and head for the super efficient JR train network. We visit the Imperial Palace Gardens right in the city centre, and here we appreciate the art of ‘cloud pruning’ on the rows of Japanese Black Pines (Pinus thunbergii). Next we catch the a couple more trains, bound for Shinjuku-gyoen, one of Tokyo’s largest parks at 57.6 acres. It dates back to 1906, and is home to the largest Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba) we have ever seen.

Miki Travel in Tokyo

Miki Travel in Tokyo

On our first full day in Japan, we start with a quick visit to Miki Travel armed with the gifts of calendars and Westonbirt Magazines, as a favour to our Marketing Department. They are a Japanese travel agent, who have been organising group visits to Westonbirt for many years, which is obviously always very welcome.

Tree Team at Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Gardens

Tree Team at Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Gardens

Then a short walk to the nearby Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Gardens, which is one of a pair of feudal era clan gardens surviving in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). We are all impressed by the high level care taken to maintain the landscape, where each pond, island and rock is very symbolic. Although, we agreed it is a little strange to see sky-scrapers as a backdrop to this scenic garden at every turn.

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Yet more trains and we arrive at Koishikawa Botanical Garden, University of Tokyo, whose aim is to contribute to research and education in plant sciences. Unfortunately, a recent typhoon had caused a lot of damage to the larger trees and the garden was unexpectedly closed. Not to be beaten, we walked to the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, which was first planted in 1629 and has a strong Chinese influence. It is also a well manicured landscape, and we watched several members of their ‘Tree Team’ at work with interest. It is fantastic to see the many Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) used to great affect against the backdrop of a central pond, and we imagine how they will look during momiji (Autumn Colour) in a month or so from now.

Shinkansen - bullet train

Shinkansen - bullet train

It is hot and sticky in the capital city, so today we are thankful to be heading out on a shinkansen (bullet train) to Shizuoka. Here we meet our first Japanese contact and friend, Dr Hiro Mizunaga, who is Professor of Silviculture at Shizuoka University, who helped us on our last visit in 2008. We make plans for tomorrow, our first day of seed collecting in the Naka-kawane Forest, some 3 hours away. We learn that we’ll have to walk part of the way to the forest, due to more typhoon damage to the roads there. At least the weather forecast is good!

Renewing Westonbirt’s links with Japan (part 1) – the 2011 seed collecting trip, by Simon Toomer, Arboretum Director.

Monday, September 26th, 2011

This week Westonbirt Arboretum’s Director, Simon Toomer, and Superintendent, Mark Ballard, will travel to Japan for two weeks to collect seed from the wild. The trip will help to develop Westonbirt’s tree collection with more diverse species of maples and other trees from this temperate climate. The team wish to thank the private donor with a passion for plants and science who has funded this trip.

It’s the weekend before the ‘off’ and I’ve at last had some time to prepare for the trip to Japan. As well as the mundane things like washing clothes, it’s also given me a chance to swot-up on the plants on our target list. I’ve also had a few practice runs at using the camera lent to us by BBC Points West to cover aspects of the trip. Mark (Superintendent, Mark Ballard) is a bit nervous about this as he seems to think I’m going to be doing all the filming while he does the ‘acting’. He’s right!

A photo from Westonbirt's last visit to Japan in 2008.

A photo from Westonbirt's last visit to Japan in 2008.

So what’s this trip all about? Some folk suspect it’s just a ruse to escape the office for a couple of weeks and renew old friendships with the Japanese colleagues we met back in 2008 when we last visited. I won’t deny that trips like this can be a great pleasure (as well as very tiring) but there is a much more important reason for going.

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. Species vary greatly from one location and habitat to another across their natural range and only by recording details such as altitude, latitude, longitude, soil type and a wealth of other information, can we realise the full value of plants for reference and study purposes. 

Trips like these are also a valuable way to develop staff knowledge and build relationships with partners in host countries who are often willing to collect and send seed that is not available at the time of visiting. Some of the seed we collect will be going to the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place. We are really pleased that one of their members of Staff, Theodore Chapman (known as Ted) will be joining us on this trip. As well as seed, we will be collecting and preparing plant specimens for the herbarium at Kew, thereby also contributing to that amazing scientific resource.

So why Japan? We tend to associate the country with enormous cities and industrial sprawl but look at an atlas and you’ll see that these highly populated areas are squeezed along the southern fringe of the main island, Honshu, with much of the rest of the country being mountainous and forested.

The Japanese forests are home to an amazingly rich tree and shrub flora. For example, as well as the well known Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) there are over 20 other species of maples – compare that to just one native to the British Isles!

One of these is the lime-leaved maple, Acer distylum, a plant that we no longer have in the collection and would love to bring back. And it’s not just maples we want to collect; our target list includes plants from a wide range of genera, including our five national collections.

On this trip we will be collecting from six forest areas including the slopes of Mount Fuji and some research forests in Ibaraki Prefecture to the Northeast of Tokyo. We will be accompanied and helped by staff from the University of Shizuoka and The Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute.

Timing of the trip is very important to coincide with the ripening (but before dropping) of the tree seed we want to collect. In high altitude areas the autumn tends to be more advanced than lower down and it’s always a compromise when it comes to choosing the best time to visit.

All our collecting will be covered by permits issued by the institutions in Japan. It is very important to us to abide by international conventions on plant conservation and benefit sharing. The days of indiscriminate and exploitative plant hunting are over and we have no wish to do anything that would damage the forests from which we collect.

As the trip progresses, we hope to share the highs and lows with you via regular blogs and (Mark permitting) video clips and photographs. Keep checking back here on the Westonbirt blog, and keep an eye on Westonbirt’s Facebook and Twitter to find and more and see photos as we go along.

International Dendrology Society trip – day fourteen: by Raef Johnson, Tree Team member

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Raef Johnson was awarded a bursary to join a two week trip to Georgia with the International Dendrology Society. Dendrology is the study of the natural history of trees and woody plants. The society aims to bring together dendrologists from around the world to promote the study and enjoyment of trees and to conserve rare and endangered plant species.

Georgia, day 14

The final day of the tour sees us back where we started in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Our last destination is Tbilisi Botanic Gardens. Officially established as a botanical garden in 1845 but possibly a garden since 1625.

Tbilisi botanical gardens

Tbilisi botanical gardens

The botanical garden is the best location for aesthetics I have ever seen in a garden. Sitting on a hillside above the old town, it has views of the whole city, while also using the natural rocky outcrops and exciting flowing river to great landscape effect.

The plantings in the botanical garden have a native dominance but more exotic gems such as the huge Firmiana simplex by the entrance can be regularly found.

After the morning visit, I returned to the garden with two very knowledgable tour participants to study herbarium specimens and an extremely enjoyable end to my tour it was!

Studying herbarium samples.

Studying herbarium samples.

International Dendrology Society trip – days twelve and thirteen: by Raef Johnson, Tree Team member

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Georgia, day 12

A morning walk up to Bagrati Cathedral provided great views over the former Georgian capital of Kutaisi. It was the happy accident of finding St George’s church however that was most memorable. Not only was the church itself interesting, but behind it we happened across an old Zelkova carpinifolia of with a girth of over 5 metres. Although half filled with cement it had a healthy crown and was estimated to be over 500 years old.

Immediately next to this was a Tilia begonifolia of a similar age but with an impressive spreading crown similar to that of an open grown oak.

Georgia, day 13

This was an incredibly long day of travelling from west to east, from two previous Georgian capitals, Kutaisi and Mtskheta then on to the current capital Tbilisi. It was an almost completely tree-less day apart from those viewed at speed from the vehicles window. So I’ll post some extra photos taken from our 2300 km journey…

A typical scene of home neighboured by Walnut, providing shade, food and insect repellent.

A typical scene of home neighboured by Walnut, providing shade, food and insect repellent.

An alpine meadow in the Bakuriani region.

An alpine meadow in the Bakuriani region.

Flowering trees are used across the country to support bee-keeping.

Flowering trees are used across the country to support bee-keeping.

International Dendrology Society trip – days ten and eleven: by Raef Johnson, Tree Team member

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Raef Johnson was awarded a bursary to join a two week trip to Georgia with the International Dendrology Society. Dendrology is the study of the natural history of trees and woody plants. The society aims to bring together dendrologists from around the world to promote the study and enjoyment of trees and to conserve rare and endangered plant species.

Georgia, day 10:

Another long drive today, going north up the coast from Batumi then inland to the Imereti region. We had an afternoon stop at another Zelkova carpinifolia forest, but this forest was of a much greater age this time and it was welcomed for the trees’ exfoliating bark and cooling shade.

Nearby is a forest of the local Quercus imeretina, an oak similar to, or possibly a sub-species of, Quercus robur but differing in its stalkless leaf.

Quercus imeretina leaf

Quercus imeretina leaf

Georgia, day 11:

Today we travelled north out of the city of Kutaisi into the mixed forests of the Racha region. We can see the snowy peaks of Mount Elbrus and its neighbours, all over 5000m; the highest mountains of the Caucasus and the highest in Europe.

The Racha province and its mixed forest

The Racha province and its mixed forest

We are becoming much more familiar with the native flora now and discovering less that is new to us. However, we do explore a dense forest of Fagus orientalis (Oriental beech) interspersed with the occasional Abies nordmanniana (Nordmann fir) and ground cover of Vaccinium arctostaphyllos (Caucasian whortleberry).

Young Abies nordmanniana, Fagus orientalis and Rhododendron luteum in the Racha region.

Young Abies nordmanniana, Fagus orientalis and Rhododendron luteum in the Racha region.

International Dendrology Society trip – days eight and nine: by Raef Johnson, Tree Team member

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Raef Johnson was awarded a bursary to join a two week trip to Georgia with the International Dendrology Society. Dendrology is the study of the natural history of trees and woody plants. The society aims to bring together dendrologists from around the world to promote the study and enjoyment of trees and to conserve rare and endangered plant species.

Georgia, day 8

A morning walk along the cliffs above Batumi heeds little new native plants, but plenty of exotics such as Juglans manschurica, citrus and tea (Camelia sinensis). These were all planted by the Soviets for feeding the country, but are now left to nature.

The afternoon was spent further up the coast at Batumi Botanical Garden, it is 112 hectares of one of the finest growing climates in the world.

4500mm of rain falls a year here and winter temperatures average at around 7 degrees, this means that fresh cut grass can be over waist height in one week! All species of trees in the botanical garden are towering tall and magnolias flower in January due to the climate.

Georgia, day 9

Mtirala National Park

Mtirala National Park

The waterproofs were unpacked for the first time today as we headed into the lush cloud covered mountains in Mtirala National Park – rain is a cert. Little new to us is found in the park, except for the beautiful flowering Rhododendron ungernii, triumphantly found by the intrepid rhododendron experts of the group, Peter Cox and Peter Hutchinson.

International Dendrology Society trip – days five and six: by Raef Johnson, Tree Team member

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Georgia, day five

Today has almost entirely constituted of driving across the middle of the country to Babaneuri, high in central Georgia. So nothing to note except the cool mountain air and the exciting sight of conifers in the landscape, mainly Picea orientalis and Pinus sosnowskyi.

Picea orientlais and Pinus sosnowskyi

Picea orientlais and Pinus sosnowskyi

Georgia, day six

A brilliantly sunny day – we couldn’t have spent it at a better spot! We are high (2000-2500 metres a.s.l) in the lesser Caucasus and marvelling at the effect altitude and temperature has on the flora of these mountainous regions.

Carpinus betulus in the Caucasus mountains

Carpinus betulus in the Caucasus mountains

Alpine meadows here are awash with flowers blowing in the wind, grazed by Azeri farmers who encamp in the mountains during the snowless summer months.

Below this we found low growing Rhododendron caucasicum and stunted Betula litwinowii, adding more species on descent until it became a rich mixed forest consisting of many of the species already mentioned as well as the stunning Acer trautvetteri.