Darren Cool, of Ventnor Botanic Garden, with the Kniphofia bruceae. Picture by Jennifer Burton.
A RARE red hot poker is setting the plant world alight at Ventnor Botanic Garden and Isle of Wight experts hope to play a key role in the survival of the species.
Kniphofia bruceae, from South Africa, only recently became known to science from a few sparse, pressed specimens from the 19th century.
It was not even named until 1954 but it is now flowering at the garden.
The bright bloomed plant, with flower spikes that reach over 2.5 metres tall, is facing pressure from foreign plants in its native habitat and experts say it could easily be extinct in the wild, making cultivation the only certain way to ensure survival of the species.
There is evidence that Kniphofia bruceae has issues that hinder pollination, so the team at Ventnor Botanic Garden (VBG) will be testing this in order to determine whether seeds or bare root division are the best approach to propagation.
VBG is assessing its collection of Kniphofia with a view of making it the garden’s second Plant Heritage National Collection.
This plant was first collected in South Africa as a poor herbarium specimen in 1894. It wasn’t collected again until 1954, this time by Eileen Bruce from the National Herbarium of Pretoria.
The material she collected became the type specimen (the pressing that the species description was based on) and was named in her honour in 1968.
Apart from one other collection in 1959, that is the entire story of man’s knowledge of this species until 1964 when it finally was brought into cultivation by J. C. McMaster as seed from a lone plant.
The cultivated offspring steadfastly refused to produce viable seed until another plant was found in 1998.
The second wild specimen was growing in an area being taken over by imported alien pine trees, so almost certainly, it has now died.
McMaster’s has built up stocks of its plants and VBG was sent seed in 2009.