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A Central Otago District Council manager has been awarded a fellowship for his service to horticulture.

Council parks and recreation manager Gordon Bailey is one of five horticulturists to be awarded a fellowship with the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture.

Mr Bailey joined the council in 2018 following a career spanning more than 30 years in parks and recreation in the southern South Island.

Outside his council role he has been part of an international effort to identify and save some rhododendron species from extinction from their native habitat.

Under his chairmanship, the Taranaki-based Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust Board has taken the lead on that initiative.

Pukeiti is owned by Taranaki Regional Council and is one the southern hemisphere’s largest collection of rhododendrons.

In the past five years, the Pukeiti ex-situ rhododendron conservation strategy has been established. `Ex situ’ is a botanists’ term to ensure species are not lost.

“The basis of this strategy is to determine what rhododendron species grow or have at one time been grown in New Zealand; are they endangered or extinct in their native habitat?

“It means obtaining propagation material, growing that on and distributing to identified sites to grow. It is hoped longer term that we can then supply plant material back to where they used to grow in the wild.”

Rhododendrons are a very large genus of 1024 species of woody plants in the heath family (Ericaceae), which are either evergreen or deciduous and found mainly in Asia – Sumatra, China, Vietnam, Sikkim, Nepal and India.

The plants grow in a variety of conditions, from the forest floor in the tropics to more than 4500m above sea level in the Himalayas.

“They grow well in Central Otago and most established gardens would have at least one plant – probably a hybrid rather than a species.”

A big fan, Mr Bailey has been to China six times in the past 30 years in pursuing his interest in rhododendrons.

Traditionally, the institute’s awards are made in a ceremony associated with the institute’s annual general meeting next year, the centenary year for the institute.