Ros Smith, Head of Micropropagation at Duchy College, led an excellent, practical day on micropropagation techniques at this meeting of the PlantNetwork Propagators’ Forum. She explained the equipment needed for preparing nutrient jelly and plant material; plant parts that can be used for micropropagation; the composition of various growing media; and transfer to different media. A demonstration of the whole process included taking cuttings, sterilisation procedures, and working in a laminar flow cabinet. Then it was time for delegates to have a go themselves.

The micropropagation unit at Rosewarne was started in 1991 as a practical educational facility for horticultural students of the college. Since then it has become a research facility for micropropagation of endangered plant species, having a licence from the Food and Environment Research Agency to undertake propagation from plants potentially infected with Phytophthora ramorum/kernoviae. The techniques developed have enabled a number of disease-free young plants to be produced from a small amount of plant material. A polytunnel full of clean propagated rhododendrons was a real tribute to Ros’s determination and skills in experimenting to find the best techniques. Details will be on our website.

Under the Rare Plant Conservation Programme, material of historically significant and rare plants that are threatened by disease and are commercially unavailable is micropropagated. Since 2005, some 25 gardens around the country containing important collections, mainly of rhododendrons, have made use of the facilities. Over 500 hybrids and species have undergone micropropagation. Plants may be returned to clean areas in a range of growth stages from rooted propagules in jelly to plants in 1-litre pots, according to the growing-on facilities available.