from The Electronic Telegraph

Friday 19 January 1996

Lost Flower of the Andes is Blooming in Britain

An exotic bloom, discovered four years ago in the cloud forests of the Venezuelan Andes, has been saved from extinction in a greenhouse near Bristol, writes Caroline Davies.

The only remaining example of Passiflora lourdesae, the Venezuelan Passion Flower, was raised from a cutting by John Vanderplank, curator of the National Collection of Passiflora at Kingston Seymour.

It was one of 12 cuttings sent to botanists around the world by Dr Miguel Molinari, a Venezuelan botanist, who found the herbaceous climber in a small area of the Merida region of the Lower Andes.

The species, which has been obliterated from its natural habitat by land development, appeared doomed after the botanists failed to raise a healthy plant.

All expect Mr Vanderplank who is acknowledged as Britain's leading authority on passion flowers.

"I am amazed that it is the only cutting to have survived. Dr Molinari has contacted all the other botanists in Europe and the USA, and all have failed, through neglect, I fear," he said. "Too often cuttings are left in greenhouses and given no individual attention. I found it relatively easy to grow. We did lose one plant in the autumn due to underheating in the greenhouse. But this one is extremely healthy.

"It is wonderful to think we have saved a species".

He now has five small cuttings from his original plant, and plans to send them to botanical gardens at Kew, Bristol and Edinburgh. "That will give the species even more chance of survival."

Jim Keesing, a botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew said: "We would be extremely happy to have a cutting. John is a well-respected specialist in this field and he has provided us with rare plants in the past."

Mr Vanderplank's ambition is to propagate the plant so he can personally deliver the original bloom to Dr Molinari replant in its natural habitat.

Dr Molinari said: "I found these passion flowers four years ago, but not one is left.

"Nobody here cares about plants or the environment. There are a few people who are interested in preserving nature but most people want to just keep on building.

"John is a lucky man, I hope his luck brings us luck."