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York groundsel re-blooms in Britain's first de-extinction wildflower

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The York groundsel was a cheerful yellow flower that slipped into global extinction in 1991 thanks to overuse of weedkiller in its namesake city.

But now the urban plant, de-extinct for the first time in the UK, has been bought back to life, and is blooming again in York.

The groundsel species was only ever found around the city and only evolved into its own species in the last century after non-natives. oxford ragwort Hybridized with native groundsel.

york groundsel, senecio aborasensisWas found growing in the car park of York railway station was the first new species to develop in Britain in 1979 and for 50 years flourished on railway sidings and abandoned land.

But the success of the new plant was short-lived, as urban land was cleared and chemicals used to remove the flowers were dismissed as “weeds”.

It was last seen in the wild in 1991. Luckily, researchers placed three tiny plants in pots on a windowsill at the University of York. These short-lived annual plants soon died out, but they produced an indeterminate pint of seed, which was recorded at Kew. Millennium Seed Bank,

Andrew Shaw Nursery of Rare British Plants The vision was to bring the species back to life, but when tests were carried out on some privately held seeds, very few germinated successfully.

So Natural England, the government’s conservation watchdog, quickly authorized the extinction effort through its Species Recovery Programme, which has funded the revival of the most threatened native species for 30 years.

Alex Prendergast, Natural England’s senior specialist in vascular plants, said: “The Millennium Seed Bank said the seed was approaching the end of its lifespan and so we thought we would only have one more chance to resurrect it. “

Natural England paid for a polytunnel at the Rare British Plants Nursery in Wales, where 100 of the tiny seeds were planted. To the botanists’ surprise, 98 seeds germinated successfully. The polytunnel was quickly filled with over a thousand York Groundsail plants.

In February six grams of seeds – possibly thousands of plants – were sown in special plots around York on council and Network Rail land.

This week, the first plants in the wild for 32 years began to bloom, bringing color to York’s streets and railway sidings.

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This de-extinction is likely to be a one-off in this country as York groundsel is the only globally extinct British plant that still remains in seed form and can therefore be revived.

But Prendergast said the de-extinction showed the value of the Millennium Seed Bank – which has a lot of York groundsel seed now back – and there were many good reasons to bring the species back to life.

“It’s a smiley, happy-looking yellow daisy and it’s a species we’ve got international responsibility for,” he said.

“It only lives in York, and it only ever lived in York. It’s a great tool to talk to people about the importance of urban biodiversity and I hope it will capture people’s imagination.

“It also has an important value as a pollinator and nectar plant in the region as it blooms almost every month of the year.”