A collection of 1,000 plants managed by the Irish Garden Plant Society (IGPS) has been awarded National Plant Collection status by Plant Heritage.

Plant Heritage is a UK based organisation who work to conserve the diversity of garden plants. The Irish Garden Plant Society is an Irish organisation with the same aims.

The collection, which has been 40 years in the making, comprises 1,000 plants, which have been bred, collected, or named after Irish horticulturists and/or historic plant hunters. They are located in 75 locations in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Here in the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland we have hundreds of them represented. Some of these plants are commonplace such as Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ (the Irish yew), whereas others, like Iris ‘Kilbroney Marble’ are scarce.

Stephen Butler, Heritage Plants Coordinator at the Irish Garden Plant Society said:

“One of the plants in our collection, Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ was presumed extinct, but excitingly it was rediscovered in the late 1990s by one of our members. Now, I’m delighted to say it has been spread across several gardens, and while it’s still not commercially available, it is no longer at risk of becoming extinct, which is fantastic.”

The collection is based on work by Dr Charles Nelson, a horticultural taxonomist who helped form the IGPS in 1981. Dr Nelson was Taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens from 1976 to 1995. The Irish Garden Plant Society published A Heritage of Beauty – The Garden Plants of Ireland in 2000 after 20 years of research by Nelson. This encyclopaedia lists over 5,300 plants with an Irish connection, and while many are no longer in existence, Irish Garden Plant Society members have helped keep many alive over the past 40 years, which now form this newly accredited National Plant Collection. Since A Heritage of Beauty was published, over 100 cultivars with an Irish connection have been named and added to a database maintained by the Irish Garden Plant Society. This list comprises thousands of plants linked to Ireland, with all records maintained so that if any details about any plant (such as origin or date of introduction) is required, it is all in one place.

Dr Mary Forrest, chair of the Irish Garden Plant Society added:

“We have been committed to conserving Ireland’s horticultural heritage for over 40 years, and the society is very honoured to have now been awarded National Plant Collection status by Plant Heritage. It is recognition of the value of the work of the society, the original research by Dr Charles Nelson and the past – and ongoing – hard work by all of our society members.”

Every plant has a link to Ireland, and must fall within one of the following categories:

  • Found or introduced by an Irish plantsman and/or collector, such as Augustine Henry
  • Bred or found in an Irish nursery, such as Ravensberg Nursery in Co. Offaly
  • Bred or found in an Irish garden, like the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Glasnevin.

Plant Heritage and the Irish Garden Plant Society both seek to rediscover and reintroduce cultivated plants into popular use by encouraging their propagation and distribution, so that they are grown as widely as possible. They work closely with other conservation bodies such as botanic gardens.

Gardener Ita Patton holds Aspidistra lurida ‘Irish Mist’ at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. This cultivar was named from plants growing in the Aquatic House in 1990, but evidently the Aspidistra was in cultivation at Glasnevin for many years before it was recognised as worthy of a separate name. (Nelson, C. A Heritage of Beauty – The Garden Plants of Ireland, 2000)


Aspidistra lurida ‘Irish Mist’ leaf close up