Media Rleease: Destination Japan – the iCONic Project heads east


THE iCONic Project, a Perthshire Big Tree Country initiative set up to pioneer the conservation of threatened conifer species around the world, is getting into the Olympic spirit early, setting off on a major seed collecting expedition later this month to Japan, newly announced home to the 2020 Olympic Games.

The seed collectors include the iCONic project officer, Tom Christian, and Peter Baxter, curator of Benmore Botanic Garden in Argyll which is part of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

They will be joined by colleagues from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to collect seed and specimens from populations of rare and threatened conifers in Japan.

The team will work closely with scientists in Japan who have helped with meticulous planning for the expedition over the last few months.

Tom Christian, project officer with iCONic, commented:

“Plans for this expedition have been in the pipeline for some time and this will be a second major milestone for The iCONic Project this year, the first being our seed collecting trip to Chile which took place in January.

“The main aim of the expedition is to collect seed on location at Honshu and Shikoku, where we will target populations of the endemic conifer Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) which is near-threatened, and Japanese Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga japonica) which is classed as endangered.

“Other rare species we will be looking at include two highly threatened spruces, Picea koyame and Picea maximowiczii.”

Seed collected will be couriered back to the UK where they will be placed into quarantine by an expert team of horticulturists at RBGE.

The rare seedlings and young plants are destined for a range of carefully-selected sites within Perthshire and will act as a valuable conservation collection.

One of the best known examples of umbrella pine in Scotland grows in the Victorian pinetum at Scone Palace in Perthshire.

Many species from temperate areas of Japan are extremely hardy and can easily cope with Perthshire’s cold winters and some, like the spruces and silver firs, actually seem to thrive on it.

It wasn’t until the 1860s that many Japanese plants became available in Europe.

Since then, they have taken on a fundamental role in gardens in the UK and elsewhere around the world, with Japanese maples, cherries, birches, rhododendrons, and many herbaceous plants, all having had a lasting impact on our gardens.

The Dukes of Atholl did plant a relatively large number of Japanese trees, and many can still be seen in the grounds of Blair Castle, and of the Hilton Dunkeld House Hotel, which had previously been part of the Atholl estates.

‘Japanese gardens’ were very popular in the last two centuries and it is thought that one used to exist at Dunkeld. Scattered specimens of Japanese conifers can be seen in many locations, but the plantings iCONic will undertake with the young trees resulting from this expedition may be one of the largest plantings of Japanese conifers ever undertaken in Perthshire.

Tom Christian concluded:

“Fieldwork like this is increasingly a necessity. Our plantings will help to underpin the global conservation of these species.

“Even in Japan many species remain highly threatened, many of them have suffered from historic logging, or habitat loss and degradation.

“Often, they occur only in fragmented or highly restricted populations, partly as a result of the historic threats, and as such are susceptible to sudden and severe decline through, for example, typhoons and forest fires, even within protected areas.

“The iCONic Project is uniquely placed to work with countries across the globe on an international remit to save these very important trees for future generations.

“The general public can keep up to date with the expedition’s progress online and through social media this autumn.”

Regular updates from the expedition will be broadcast on social media at for those wishing to follow the seed collectors’ progress throughout September and October.

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Contact: Tom Christian
Phone: 07788720824