Trewithen's berberis francisci-ferdinandii parent plant is the oldest and, standing at 15ft, the tallest in the UK. It's also so rare it is known to be growing in only two other places – Kew Gardens, the home of horticulture and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.
As Cornwall is a perfect environment for this type of Berberis, Trewithen's Head Gardener, Gary Long and Nursery Manager, Luke Hazelton, decided to collect seeds from the parent plant and nurture new specimens to share with the public.
The plant was originally brought to Trewithen from Sichuan, China, in 1908 by renowned plant hunter, Ernest Wilson. Unlabelled since 1914, the shrub had been growing unnoticed outside the kitchen and on many occasions had been marked for removal.
It was rediscovered, by chance, just over a year ago by a visitor. Julian Harber, a Chinese Berberis expert, had intended to go for a walk on the cliffs during his Cornish holiday but rain changed his plans. He knew of Trewithen's plant hunting history and was keen to see if the garden had any Berberis collected during that time.
Together with Gary he looked through the intricate garden records of George Johnstone, a keen supporter of seed collecting expeditions, who inherited the estate in 1904. Using that information he discovered the plant.
The shrub is a prickly plant at its most beautiful in the winter when it is covered in striking scarlet berries that are reputedly rich in vitamin C.
Luke said: "It's always exciting to propagate rare plants to share with other enthusiasts and this Berberis seems to thrive in Cornwall. We've even sent a young plant to Kew."
Trewithen's Nursery is open Monday to Thursday from 8am to 3pm, Fridays from 8am to 1pm and on Saturday (February onwards) from 10am to 3pm.
For more information, visit www.trewithengardens.co.uk or call Luke Hazelton on 01726 882764.