Cultivated plants in Northern Ireland
This website gives an insight into the huge diversity of plants cultivated within Northern Ireland which come from all the corners of the globe, with the emphasis on trees and shrubs rather than herbaceous plants. The trees include those planted in gardens or parks or as wayside amenity plantings, shelter belts etc.
Please note it is currently under development and further species and information will be added from time to time.
How many species?
The total number of species of ferns and seed plants (collectively called the 'vascular plants') living on earth today is estimated at about 250,000. The total number of wild vascular plant species living in Northern Ireland is probably around 1500 at most. Of these about 900 or so are natives and the remainder are introductions (aliens) brought in by man.
However, the total number of species (mostly foreign) cultivated in Northern Ireland is vastly in excess of this number, perhaps as many as 30,000. The total for the entire British Isles is probably about 55,000 - about a quarter or so of the entire world vascular plant flora!
Why so many foreign species? - the climatic factor
A combination of climatic/geographical factors has produced one of the most equable climates in the British Isles, which can therefore support an exceptionally wide range of plants; this encompasses tender species from Chile, Tasmania and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere. One other result has been the encouragement of the growth of many 'champion' trees in Northern Ireland.
The impoverishment, both catastrophic and gradual, of important collections in the south and east of the British Isles, means that those in the west and north have become relatively more and more valuable, as they have not suffered to the same extent.
This huge collection of introduced flora, which is distributed through large gardens, demesnes, parks, ordinary suburban gardens and wayside plantings, is a significant reservoir of plant biodiversity. Some species are commoner in cultivation than they are in their wild homes and may one day provide a source for re-introduction into the wild. Unfortunately, the genetic diversity of many cultivated plants is much smaller than that of the wild populations and some species are only known in cultivation as a single clone or genotype (such as Japanese knotweed).
Economically Important Plants
As well as the plants grown for ornament ('garden plants') the introduced flora also includes all the economically important crop plants and timber-producing trees. Virtually none of the species of crop plants, whether of cereals, fruit, other food plants, oil-producing plants or fibre-producing plants, is indigenous to Northern Ireland.
The only exceptions are the forage plants such as the grasses and clovers which are sown in artificial leys, and even in these cases many of the commercial varieties of these species are derived from sources outside Ireland and are consequently genetically distinct from our wild populations.
The Wild Plants of Northern Ireland
If you want to know more about the wild flora of Northern Ireland go to our Flora of Northern Ireland web site.