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Devon's historic plant hunters honoured

'Veitch' book remembers people who made Monkey Puzzle popular

A handbook for finding native, international, ancient and exotic trees in Devon, has been published that honours a once-famous Devon family of horticulturalists. The publication is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

“'The ‘plant hunters’ guide to the Devon Veitch Legacy' celebrates the legacy of James Veitch & Sons who introduced many species to the county in the nineteenth century. Information boards remembering the family are on the planted area separating Southernhay East and West in central Exeter.

The Veitches had a nursery business that was eventually acquired by St Bridget Nurseries in Exeter in 1969 - and they still sell Veitch specimens.

The impact of the Veitch family on horticulture, garden and parkland design in Devon and beyond, as well as plant conservation worldwide was huge, and has largely been forgotten. Their legacy lives on in gardens around the country and in the local parks such as Killerton, Bicton, and the University of Exeter campus.

The guide was created by Simon Bates, who is green infrastructure project manager at East Devon District Council and horticulturist Caradoc Doy, a researcher of the Veitch nurseries of Exeter and Chelsea. 

Mr Bates said: “As we work towards delivering the Clyst Valley Regional Park for local people, this guide helps us celebrate the tenacity and fortitude of the plant hunters who overcame hostile encounters, terrain and weather, while travelling across the world without modern-day technology and equipment."

Caradoc added: “The plants and trees brought to Devon by the plant hunters enrich our lives, regulate our climate, and protect global biodiversity for the future. Although not introduced by Veitch, they did help make the Monkey Puzzle popular. For example, it is now only found growing wild in the mountains of Chile and Argentina, but we have a fine avenue at Bicton College. The Monkey Puzzle was once native to the British Isles during prehistoric times. We know this because Whitby Jet is fossilised Monkey Puzzle tree."

The book was partly financed with help from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Cranbrook Town Council, Devon County Council- Devon Gardens Trust, Environment Agency and the National Trust.

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