Rare birch discovered in Georgia

On the 17th September, our Garden Manager Paul Bartlett headed off to the country of Georgia, deep in the Caucasus region.

This was a follow-up trip to a journey Paul made last year (see our report here).  This year, he was concentrating on the mountainous region of Samegrelo in the north west of the country. Here he hoped to find the rare shrub birch Betula megrelica.

Paul is now back from his travels. He found small areas on two mountains that contained dwarf woodlands of this species. Seed from many trees was collected, to be grown and studied here in the UK. He also brought back samples of shoots which have been sent to the Plant Sciences department of Queen Mary University of London. There Nian Wang, a member of Dr Richard Buggs team, has  carried out molecular analysis of this wild-collected material and confirmed that all the material has a chromosome count of168 – confirming it as Betula megrelica.

This is an important discovery, as previously no studies of this species had been carried out in the wild. We now know much more about the niche habitat this species occupies in the wild.

Paul was supported on his trip by staff from Tbilisi Botanic Garden, with help from the Georgian Institute of Botany, as well as local guides.

We are very grateful to The Rufford Small Grant Trust and Plant Heritage (Devon Group) for financial support., without which the project could not have taken place.