Mother’s Day bouquet palm leaves collected from forests could be grown commercially

Sophie measuring a leafSophie measuring a leafExotic palm leaves in your Mother’s Day bouquet may have come from forests in Belize or Guatemala, central America. Export for the flower arranging industry threatens the survival of some of these palms in the wild.

There has been increasing interest in the cultivation of harvested plant species, aiming to reduce the use of wild populations and to improve human livelihoods. For this change to be possible, people need to have the knowledge to be able grow the plants themselves. In 2006 Belize Botanic Garden trained local farmers as part of a UK Darwin Initiative Project to cultivate xaté, an economically important palm species, which is at risk in the wild.

Bangor University and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, recently investigated whether the training had in fact had a beneficial effect. The research, reported in PLoS ONE, found that training increased technical knowledge about cultivating xaté and did result in people cultivating this over-harvested species.

Xaté LeafXaté LeafThe lead author of the study, Sophie Williams, of Bangor University said: “xaté palm leaves are exported to Europe and the USA for flower arrangements and is a multi-million dollar industry. People in central America can cultivate this species so not all the market supply needs to come from the wild”.

Dr Colin Clubbe of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and another author on the study goes on to explain “the training programme had influenced behaviour by providing the skills needed to grow a new species but also it increased peoples belief in their ability to grow a new species. This is critical for people to actually cultivate this important plant.The results from this study will help design training programmes for encouraging cultivation of over-harvested species.

Sophie interviewing a farmerSophie interviewing a farmerThe results from this study will help design training programmes for encouraging cultivation of over-harvested species. The researchers call for future training programmes to consider providing resources to help people establish cultivation, such as seeds or young plants, in addition to providing technical skills needed to cultivate over-harvested species.

Sophie was attracted to study at Bangor University because of the location and has stayed because of the ‘wonderful community and lifestyle of north Wales.’ Adding that it will be hard to leave at the end of the year when she finishes her PhD.

Sophie graduated in Ecology from Bangor in 2006, during the summer of 2006, she worked on a business plan and campaign to keep Treborth Botanic Garden functioning as a botanic garden, setting up the successful Botanical Beats event.  She worked at Treborth Botanic Garden as a project manager for the 'Plants and People' project, aimed at connecting people in the local community with plants and d conservation issues. After a period as project manager at Moelyci Environmental Centre, Sophie was accepted at Imperial College, London for a Conservation Science MSc. She completed her MSc thesis in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and spent two months in the Caribbean mapping endemic plants.  She has maintained this link with Kew for her PhD, with two supervisors at Bangor and one at Kew.

Her PhD focuses on how botanic gardens can be used effectively to communicate conservation and promote cultivation and sustainable harvesting of over-exploited plant species. Her involvement with Treborth has had a huge impact on the topic of my PhD. On completion, she will graduate with a PhD in 'Conservation Science'.

The research was funded by Bangor University, the Bentham-Moxon Trust, Kew and the Natural Resource International Fellowship.

Publication date: 15 March 2012