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Palm trees in England? Invasive plants could soon spread across the UK

Palm trees are a familiar sight on white sandy beaches in tropical and subtropical climates, but they may soon pop up across the UK due to climate change.

Chinese windmill palms and other ornamental plants could soon escape greenhouses and thrive in the wild in the UK as global temperatures increase and typically colder climates become more hospitable for tropical vegetation.

There are already reports of the hearty, slow growing and cold-resistant palm growing in Torbay, which is referred to as the English Riviera.

The Chinese windmill palm, although not listed as an invasive species yet, is on the radar of Reading University researcher Tomos Jones.

Jones’ research involves potentially invasive plants currently used in greenhouses and gardens like Lady’s mantle and Heart-leaved houttuynia. These plants could “jump the garden fence” and spread, potentially choking out native plants.

To help raise awareness of these ornamental escapees, Jones and his team has created an exhibit called “Future Invaders,” which is being displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show.

At the show, visitors can see firsthand which plants are projected to be invasive and a nuisance as climate change makes habitats more inviting.

“This exhibit is the University’s most ambitious yet. I don’t want visitors to leave thinking that all ornamental plants are ‘evil,’” said Jones. “It will show that most are valuable additions to gardens and can be important for wildlife by supporting native biodiversity such as pollinators and other insects. The exhibit will also explain how to manage plants responsibly in your garden.”

Jones has also created a quick survey that UK gardeners can fill out online that helps show which invasive plants are cropping up in gardens and jumping garden fences to spread unimpeded in the wild.

“Many ornamental plants favoured by gardeners for their beauty have the ability to escape beyond the garden fence and have a damaging effect on the environment,” said Jones. “Invasive plants that are not managed or disposed of responsibly can spread quickly and dominate landscapes, to the detriment of native species. We are asking the public to help identify plants showing invasive characteristics.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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