Sargentodoxa cuneata - Rare plants at Staunton Country Park

Staunton Country Park has a National Collection of a family of unusual plants.

May 3 2024

Staunton Country Park has had a National Collection for a year now, a unique collection, a family of unusual plants. These are largely vines found mainly in Asia, but also South America. The family name is Lardizabalaceae and one of its seven genera is the Stauntonia, named after our own George Staunton's father in recognition of his work in China in the late 1700s as a diplomat and amateur botanist.

Of the seven, one in particular has been really hard to source for the collection, the Sargentodoxa. Named after Charles Sprague Sargent (1841 - 1927) who was the first director of the Arnold Arboretum, America's equivalent of Kew Gardens.

There are only a handful of individual plants growing in the UK, including at the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and, Tregrehan Garden in Cornwall, but no young plants or seeds available. Tregrehan kindly provided some root cuttings but unfortunately these were not successful.

Sargentodoxa cuneata plants

The only possible option was then to source some seeds from abroad and at first, they proved impossible to find, then finally a bag full of what resembled magic beans arrived from China during the Winter. These came with the simple but unhelpful instruction, 'soak in tepid water for 24 hours and then plant in damp compost'. These were shared among staff, volunteers and keen local residents in the hope that a variety of different techniques would give us the best possible chance.

To date five plants have appeared and are thriving, and there are still a few seeds in the pipeline. So, who has the green fingers? The Park manager, Tim Speller, claims four and local Leigh Park resident has also grown one.

Our Sargentodoxa will soon be planted out into the gardens and hopefully will eventually produce seeds of their own.

This plant in its native habitat is widely collected for its medicinal properties and the part that is valued is a cross section through the stem. Unfortunately, this means cutting the vine down at its base, consequently, the Sargentodoxa is becoming increasingly scarce in the wild so hopefully we can play our part in its recovery.

Sargentodoxa cuneata seeds