Rare conifer to be planted at Darwin's house

A rare tree named after the man who captained Charles Darwin's voyage of discovery is to be planted this week at Darwin's home, Down House in Kent.

Rowan Blaik (right)
Rowan Blaik (right)

The Fitzroya cupressoides, a rare conifer from South America, will be planted within the scientist’s garden in memory of Darwin’s travel companion, Robert FitzRoy, Captain of HMS Beagle, who was a pioneering scientist and meteorologist in his own right.

The planting will take place ahead of ‘Origin Weekend’ on 21-22 November, Down House’s annual celebration of the naturalist’s work, where the site will host a variety of talks and tours, and a house quest for children. This is a particularly topical month for Darwin connections, with his most famous book, On the Origin of Species, last week voted by the public as the most influential academic book ever written.

This planting is especially significant as the cutting, cultivated and donated by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), was collected from a remnant tree in Chile that was almost certainly in view when Darwin and Fitzroy sailed around the South American coastline. That habitat has been almost totally wiped out by deforestation.

The Fitzroya is an important species on account of its age – some estimates put specimens at about 3,300 years.

Rowan Blaik, head gardener for English Heritage at Down House, said; "All of the team here at Down House are delighted to accept this plant from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and hope it adds another tale to the fantastic story of natural history told at the home of Charles Darwin. Robert FitzRoy was a key figure in Darwin’s journey of discovery and is worthy of being honoured at the site.

"Visitors to our Origin Weekend this coming Saturday and Sunday can help us celebrate this fantastic story, and find out more about Charles Darwin’s unique discoveries."

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has led research on the collections brought back to the UK in the 19th Century, and today lead the way in distributing the cultivation of the conifer.

Martin Gardner, coordinator of the International Conifer Conservation Programme at the RGBE, said: "Planting the Fitzroya cupressoides at Down House is a great opportunity to tell the extraordinary story of this famous tree, and to raise awareness of the plight of conifers worldwide. Plants like this one have the potential to be used to restore depleted populations across the world if habitat-loss continues."

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