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EXTINCTION THREAT TO OUR SHAMROCKS; Plant could be gone within years due to massive demand.

Byline: LARISSA NOLAN

THE shamrock could be EXTINCT within years, the Irish Sunday Mirror can reveal.

The cherished three-leafed plant - the emblem of St Patrick - is so popular around the world that growers fear its popularity could soon kill it off.

Demand for the shamrock is huge with shipments sent off to retailers all over Britain, the US, Canada and Australia in time for today's celebrations.

Gardener Cecil Geddis, one of Ireland's main exporters of the shamrock, said that lack of seedlings is at the root of the problem.

"People are desperate to get their hands on shamrock now, everybody wants some.

"But you may have noticed that it's very hard to buy the stuff as there isn't as much of it around as there used to be.

"That's because growers are just selling it off without keeping back any seedlings.

"Of course, without any seedlings, you can't grow more shamrock, so little by little it's dwindling away.

"It's vital to grow some shamrock purely for the seed alone, in order to keep it in existence.

"Otherwise it will just peter out until there is none left.

"Can you imagine how awful it would be if shamrock were to become extinct in Ireland?"

But Cecil, who runs Hoophill Nurseries in Banbridge, Co Down, with his son Kyle said he and his team are determined to save it.

He added: "The shamrock is certainly under pressure. It is facing an uncertain future. It is possible that it could become extinct, even as soon as in a couple of years from now.

"But we must not let that happen. As long as I am around - and growers like me are around - we'll fight to keep the shamrock alive.

"I send out a huge amount of shamrock and ship it all over the world.

"But I am very careful to make sure we have kept enough good seed back to grow more. I won't see it die out."

This week was Cecil's busiest week ever in the shamrock business.

Cecil grows the plant at his Banbridge base and sells it wholesale to shops all over the world.

He even ships it out as far as the Fiji Islands, where members of the North's Royal Irish Regiment receive a package of the plant in time for St Patrick's Day.

He says that demand for the three-leafed plant has increased year by year, with people all over the world wanting some.

And while he has never seen a four-leafed shamrock, he says the plant itself has brought him luck.

He added: "The demand is just unbelievable, we get people calling and writing from all over the globe. They all want the shamrock.

"I've never come across a four-leafed clover but I have all the luck I need when it comes to business. Demand is sky high."

Cecil begins preparing for the St Patrick's Day rush in September when he starts planting the shamrock seeds.

He has the timing down to a fine art and the plant is ready to be sent out a week or two before March 17.

The company then freeze-dry the shamrock and ship it off to worldwide destinations.

He plans to expand his business next year by setting up on the internet.

"You have to keep moving with the times and we plan to be on the webby next year," he said.

Meanwhile, scores of illegally imported shamrock seized by Australian customs officials has been destroyed.

The government wanted to block the shamrock as they were worried the plant may carry foot and mouth disease into their country. Sniffer dogs and x-ray machines worked overtime before St Patrick's week to weed out the plant from the country's incoming mail from Ireland.

More than 60 sprigs were found at postal sorting centres during inspections of mail.

Rob Angus, manager of Sydney's plant quarantine station, explained that the packages arrive every year for St Patrick's Day.

But he claimed some types of shamrock were noxious weeds that could threaten Australia's unique eco-system and introduce plant diseases.

He said many of the seized plants included soil that could bring foot and mouth disease to Australia and potentially ruin the country's billion-dollar cattle industry.

Mr Angus said: "I've been with the postal service for 20 years and we see the letters from Ireland every year.

"You understand why people want shamrock but they should try to find some other way to express their nationality."

Letters have sent to the intended shamrock recipients explaining why their St Patrick's Day present never made it.

But the shamrock caused no fear in Washington DC, where President Bush accepted a bowl of shamrock from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

larissa.nolan@mgn.ie

Voice of the Irish Sunday Mirror: Page 6

CAPTION(S):

CONCERN: Cecil's son Kyle Geddis, and inset, Mr Ahern's gift to President George Bush
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 17, 2002
Words:806
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