Beautiful, bountiful and priceless: a botanical legacy as never seen before

An insightful peek at the rarely seen objects supporting the work of a leading international research centre is presented exquisitely in the newly published Botanical Treasures: Objects from the Herbarium and Library of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Set alongside alluring images of antique and contemporary archive specimens sit rich textual passages presenting powerful stories about plants and people from around the world.

Charles Darwin, Carl Linnaeus and Captain Bligh are all cited, along with a cautionary tale of how plant collecting can leave you murdered in a bull pit; the explanation of how vomiting after ingestion of an “ordeal bean” could prove you innocent of crime and the truth about the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s (RBGE) dalliance with the opium trade.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of RBGE’s combined Library and Herbarium building - and sold to support the work of the organisation - the multi-authored Botanical Treasures aims to be both entertaining and enlightening in its approach to explaining what happens behind the scenes. It reveals the pictures and stories of everything from ethereal orchid flowers pickled in spirit to stunning teaching models of the late 19th century and the exotic drawings of Dapuri’s unknown artist.

There are tales of adventure, considering the actions of men and women who have risked their lives to build the scientific resource now held in Edinburgh – for scientists around the world. Missionaries, doctors, soldiers and plant hunters have collected, painted and photographed the flora of the planet. There are also tales of plunder. While many returned home to speak of these adventures, a significant few have died on expedition and so have left a more complex legacy. In 160 pages, Botanical Treasures sets out to tell such stories.

Welcoming publication of the book, RBGE Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE commented: “This book helps us to appreciate the intrinsic value of the world of plants, reminding us of the beauty of the natural world and the expertise of mankind in capturing and preserving that beauty. It is my hope that this book will enable even more people to be inspired to value our national collections and to support the work of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.”

Botanical Treasures: Objects from the Herbarium and Library of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, paperback colour, illustrated throughout, £12.50, ISBN: 978-1-906129-97-2, is published by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, EH3 5LR. Now available at the Botanics Shop or email

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)