Plant taxonomy

Research is one of the defining activities of a botanic garden. Often, this takes the form of work that is directly associated with the plant collection. At Ness, we house large and important collections of tree species, including Sorbus and Betula. These act as a resource for botanists across the UK, but have also been the focus of research carried out by our own botanists within the gardens.

Cytological and morphological research carried out by Dr. Hugh McAllister led to a taxonomic revision of three genera: Betula, Sorbus and Hedera. This work has enhanced our understanding of how different taxa within the genus Betula are related to one another and informs on the nature of species in this taxonomically complex genus.  

Tim Baxter is the Botanist at Ness today. His work is invaluable in safeguarding the integrity of our unique collections for future generations of botanists. Tim is also working on the taxonomy of Spiraea (shrubs within the genus Rosaceae), aiming to understand the taxonomy of this commonly cultivated and complicated genus. We have regular requests to access our collections of Sorbus and Betula made by botanists from other institutions across the world, primarily as a result of the continuation of the Ness Index Seminum, a list of seeds offered for botanical research and conservation of rare plant taxa. This includes many that are not offered by other international seed lists, including many of the Sorbus collections, alongside those classified as internationally threatened species, for example Betula bomiensis, B. insignis ssp. vietnamensis and B. murrayana.  

At Ness we are proud to be the University of Liverpool’s botanic garden. As some readers will remember, the outlying areas of the garden were once run by the School of Biological Sciences and home to a number of research projects. These days the team at Ness manages all 64 acres but we maintain strong links with academic colleagues, hosting two large projects run by teams based in the Institute of Integrative Biology in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. 

We also host a number of smaller projects. These are often PhD or post-doctoral projects, and sometimes linked to the fauna found at Ness. So, for example, PhD student Lauren Mee is currently investigating the relationships between immunity and sociality in bee species with different social lifestyles. And perhaps you have noticed an unusual-looking apparatus behind the cart where we sell fruit and vegetables? That is an experiment that is investigating ‘smart trap’ technology for the real-time monitoring of insect disease vectors, run by Richard Gregory. 

It is probably fair to say that not all of the fauna at Ness is welcome, with mosquitoes presenting difficulties for visitors and gardeners alike. But (perhaps) we can take some solace from the fact that, for this reason, researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine find Ness a happy hunting ground! 

Ness seeks to actively support the University of Liverpool’s research strategy and its focus on excellence, reach and impact. We hope to be able to share an increasing number of these stories with you.

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