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A Living Library

Ness houses one of the most exciting plant collections in the country. There really is something for everyone, with many plants of interest and beauty, but also rare and unusual plants that help our understanding of the world.

Betula Utilis Var Jacquemontii HM1811 SL10 P 5200

Botany is the scientific study of plants. Botany underpins much of the work at Ness, and the gardens contribute to plant and environmental sciences. Ness is a living library of unusual and interesting plants, and has one of the most exciting woody plant collections in the country. Many of the plants in the gardens are documented and labelled, thereby furthering the study of plants from across the world. The gardens support research conducted as part of the University of Liverpool that now includes an exciting experiment on the effects of climate change on grassland plant communities. 

Botanic gardens are committed to growing interesting plants, and many aim to maintain an accurate plant records system. Maintaining a records database and ensuring plants are labelled helps both visitors and experts recognise what a plant might be and where in the world it originates from. Here at Ness we grow over 10,000 types (taxa) of plants, many of which are of documented wild origin. Many plants in the gardens are now labelled, although the process is slow due to the expertise needed to ensure any plant is correctly identified and documented. Growing and documenting plants in this manner is similar to maintaining a living library.

Alnus Maximowiczii Great Dale Hey Mk 001

It might surprise many visitors to the gardens to learn that many of the plants found growing in the gardens are of documented wild origin. In fact, many of the most beautiful and unusual plants to be found in the gardens are wild-collected. For example, Ness has two of the largest collections of Rowans (Sorbus spp.) and Birches (Betula spp.) in cultivation. Almost all of these plants are of documented origin, and originate from across the northern hemisphere. These have been part of ongoing research to determine the diversity and identification (taxonomy) of these two genera.

Plants are always best studied in the wild to observe natural variability, but sometimes this is not always appropriate. Collecting seed or other plant material in the wild and cultivating it an institution such as Ness provides many essential services to botany. Studying plants in a controlled environment can increase accessibility and reduce cost compared to field work alone. One important avenue for obtaining wild origin material is through the international seed exchange programme. Seeds collected in the wild or from individual gardens are exchanged between botanic institutions, helping to conserve the world's rare plants.

Sorbus Carmesina BL12545 Pine Wood P 10550