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Genetic Cloning Saves Historic Rhododendron in Danger of Extinction, Recovers from ‘Plant Destroyer’ Disease "

May 03, 2016 01:04 PM EDT

A few years ago, a microscopic fungal disease called Phytophthora ramorum aka 'plant destroyer' attacked ornamental plants including rhododendrons at the Lost Garden of Heligan. Recently, scientists at Cornwall said they have found a way to save the ancient rhododendron plants and other plant species that are in danger of becoming extinct.

For the first time, scientists, through a micro-propagation project led by Ros Smith, Laboratory Manager at Duchy College in Cornwall, have created brand new disease-free versions of the flowers by genetically cloning different species.

"The Lost Gardens of Heligan are welcoming home some very old friends this summer. 300 eight year-old healthy rhododendron plants from a pioneering micro-propagation program, have come home to the gardens and are set to be reinstated in their rightful place. Some of these specimens were thought to have been lost to the sands of time, but thanks to this ground breaking program, they have risen from the ashes," the website writes.

Smith told Telegraph that the project is of national importance.

"A lot of the plants we are working with were original introductions to this country from the 1850s. There are also some rare hybrids and some unique plants that are under threat for a number of different reasons," she told the news website.

Rhododendrons are brought to the United Kingdom more than 160 years ago and are considered both historic and rare.

The micro-propagation project not only aims to protect rhododendrons, but all endangered plant species such as camellias and vibernums.

In a separate interview with Daily Mail, Iain Davies, Head of Gardens and Estate at Heligan, said the breakthrough means repropagation of more ancient species is possible.

"The micro-propagation of our historic rhododendrons not only means that we can replace plants that have been lost since the project began eight years ago, it also means that we can re-populate the gardens with the exact species first introduced in 1851," he said.

Discovered in ‘90s, The Lost Garden of Heligan is one of the most popular botanical gardens in the UK. Almost ten years ago,it was granted ‘national collection holder' status by Plant Heritage for its historic collection of rhododendrons and camellias.

According to their website, There are more than 70 veteran camellias and 350 ancient rhododendrons included in the collection, which are found throughout Heligan. The earliest plantings date from around 1850.

Botanical gardens are keystone in conservation. The recent discovery encourages hope to bring back such species.

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