Page last updated at 08:38 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 09:38 UK

'Oldest' pot plant to get new pot

Kew Gardens engineers

'Oldest' pot plant gets replanted

A tree believed to be the "oldest pot plant in the world" is being re-potted in a delicate operation at Kew Gardens in south London.

The ancient cycad was collected in the early 1770s from the Eastern Cape in South Africa by Kew's first plant-hunter Francis Masson.

But it outlived its finder many times over, growing outwards by 2.5cm a year to its current width of 4.4m (14.4ft).

Now it has outgrown its pot too - so a team of five gardeners is changing it.

They will use a specially constructed four-metre-high lifting gantry to hoist the plant, which weighs one tonne.

It will be an exciting and nerve-racking moment
Wes Shaw, Kew Gardens

The trunk will be supported with stilts while craftsmen build a new pot out of mahogany around the cycad's root ball.

Wes Shaw, keeper of the Palm House, said: "Cycads are fascinating prehistoric plants, and this one is the don of the Palm House.

"It has been slowly growing year by year since the Gardens began."

He continued: "As Kew celebrates its 250th anniversary, it's a fitting time to re-pot this gem to ensure that it remains healthy for future generations.

"It will be an exciting and nerve-racking moment - but I'm glad to have a strong team of Kew gardeners around me."

The cycad family comes from the Jurassic era, predating flowering plant-life.

They can live more than 500 years and provide botanists with clues about the nature of early plants.

Kew Gardens think their cycad is the oldest potted plant in existence.

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