Sep 30 2009 Posted: 00:00 IST
NUI Galway is undertaking a research project to establish the extent of the infestation in Connemara of the alien plant species Gunnera tinctoria or 'giant rhubarb' as it is commonly known. The project is investigating the best methods of controlling the growth or eradicating the plant completely and is calling on local people to report sightings of infestation. Previously 'giant rhubarb' was seen as a structurally beautiful plant however, in recent years this botanical wonder has been growing out of control. A native of Chile, it can grow up to two metres tall and as it multiplies can dominate entire landscapes. Because of its size it overshadows native flora and poses a serious threat to the rich biodiversity of Connemara. Gunnera tinctoria spreads so rapidly and extensively as each plant produces up to 250,000 seeds which are dispersed by birds. It also spreads by underground rhizomes and just a small fragment of the root can sprout a whole new plant. Dumping of garden waste and movement of soil from infested sites are thought to be the main means of spreading the plant. Gunnera tinctoria thrives in the damp acid soils found in parts of Connemara and Achill Island. It also favours disturbed ground and is common at roadsides, building sites, quarries and can even be found in National Parks. Maria Corcoran, who is undertaking the study with the Applied Ecology Unit at NUI Galway, said: "This plant is actually not related to rhubarb. However, it seems to relish the terrain, climate and soil of Connemara. The cost of treating and removing infestations can be substantial, therefore it is important that its occurrence is recorded and every effort is made to control it. If the spread of Gunnera tinctoria is not checked, the damage it will cause to the biodiversity of the region will be irreversible". The project is being run by NUI Galway in association with the biodiversity project 'People and Nature'. If anyone has any information as to areas where the plant might be growing, or for more information on the project, please contact Maria Corcoran at firstname.lastname@example.org or 086 1683089, or contact the 'People and Nature' Project Manager, Elaine O'Riordan in the Applied Ecology Unit, Centre for Environmental Science at NUI Galway, at 091 493863 or email@example.com.