Artemisia is a diverse genus of plants within Compositae (Asteraceae), composed of about 400 different species. The composite flowers are largely insignificant as they do not have the outer ray sepals typical of other daisy type flowers. Most cultivated artemisias are used for their architectural appearance, strong scent or for herbal or flavouring uses rather than for their flowers and the silver leaved species are particularly prized as garden plants. Some of the scented plants are useful in pot pourri or have long associations as natural insect repellants. Artemisia annua has been used in China for centuries to treat malaria and other fevers. It is the source of the latest antimalarial drug artemisinin.
Various botanists have split the genus into up to five subgenera, one of which (Seriphidium) was raised to full genus status in some 1990s texts, but the change was not followed in the Artemisia Collection. More recent taxonomic work has refuted this change and current thinking is that Seriphidium belongs firmly within Artemisia. The Plantfinder followed the revision for a number of years but is reverting Seriphidium back into Artemisia for the 2012 Edition. Plant enthusiasts with earlier Plantfinder editions should note that they will find perhaps a quarter of Artemisia taxa listed as Seriphidium.
History of the Artemisia Collection
Dr John Twibell became interested in the diversity of these plants and started to collect them in the early 1980s. The collection was designated as Plant Heritage (NCCPG) National Collection in 1987 and was given “Scientific” status in 1999. The Collection was originally held near Cambridge, but moved to Sidmouth, Devon in 2007. It is continually expanding and currently holds about 400 accessions. Although more are added each year, inevitably a few are lost each winter due to difficulties in maintaining the correct environment for so many varied species.