University of Liverpool returns special birch tree to China

The University of Liverpool is to return a special Birch tree to China at a ceremony at the Shanghai Expo.

The Betula albosinensis  was collected during an expedition in 1910 in West Sichuan, China by the British plant collector Ernest Wilson and has been cultivated at the University’s Ness Botanic Gardens since 1970.  Known for the attractiveness of its distinctive orange bark, the tree can grow to around 33m tall with a girth of up to 3.6m.

The 2m tall tree will be presented to Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) on Saturday, 15 May. It will be planted on Taohua Island, a small island in the middle of Jinji Lake in SIP, the site of the University’s joint venture institution, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.  SIP is a developing town of 288 km2 with 723,000 residents and an international business park accomodating 76 Fortune 500 companies.

Kevin Reid, Director of Ness Gardens said: “We’re delighted to present this fine example of a highly attractive Birch from our botanic collection to China. We also hope the transfer of the tree will help to forge links between the botanical gardens at both Ness and Suzhou.  The University’s involvement in Expo represented a great opportunity for us to make this presentation, which we see as an important symbol of friendship between Liverpool and Suzhou.”

Ness Gardens was created in 1898 when Arthur Kiplin Bulley, a wealthy Liverpool cotton merchant with a passion for horticulture, began creating a garden in rural Cheshire.  Bulley, along with other wealthy men of his era, sponsored expeditions to the far reaches of the world to collect plants and in this way Bulley was responsible for introducing hundreds of new plants to Britain.

Bulley believed that Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants, in particular, could be established in Britain.  He commissioned two explorers, George Forrest and Frank Kingdom-Ward, to find rare plants and bring them back to Ness Gardens.  Over a period of 28 years more than 30,000 plant specimens, including a unique collection of rhododendrons, found their way to Ness Gardens.

Arthur Bulley died in 1942, and in 1948 his daughter Lois presented the Gardens to the University of Liverpool with an endowment of £75,000.  Today the University’s award-winning Gardens on the Wirral are a major tourist attraction and designated a ‘Cheshire Garden of Distinction’.  They continue to support conservation and education – reflecting Bulley’s original interests.

At Shanghai Expo,  Ness Gardens will also be showcasing its history, its Chinese plant collection together with its recent and future tourism developments within the North West using a large Microsoft Surface computer which will be available to visitors to the Liverpool Pavilion at Shanghai Expo.  This will be the first time such a device has been used in China.

Notes to editors:

1.  The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK.  It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £98 million annually.

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