Celebrating 70 years of Indian Independence

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Indian Independence with a self-guided trail of plants in the Garden, and the publication of a new book about the Indian botanical drawings in its collection.

 It is not necessary to add to one’s carbon footprint by flying to India to see representatives of the flora of the subcontinent, as plants from a wide range of its diverse habitats can be seen at RBGE. Tropical plants must be grown in the Glasshouses where, in the Tropical Montane House, visitors can see a seedling of the famous 240-year old banyan tree that grows in the AJC Bose Indian Botanic Garden, Kolkata. From the Deccan plateau the tree Dichrostachys cinerea is grown in the Arid Lands House. The exquisite blooms of the sacred lotus rise from the warm waters of the pool in the Plants and People House. Outside, and throughout the Garden, are to be found plants from temperate parts of India, especially from the Himalaya, from alpine herbs in the Rock Garden, to majestic forest trees such as the deodar sent as seed to RBGE in the 19th century. Seventy plants have been highlighted, one for each year of Independence, and their stories are available in a new mobile phone app called ‘Botanics Nearby’. Twenty of these audio clips are available, telling the stories of the plants or the people who discovered them. 

In the new book Botanical Art from India: the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Collection, by RBGE botanist, Henry Noltie, 86 drawings and watercolours from 12 different collections are reproduced. These were all made by Indian artists, commissioned by East India Company surgeons who had studied botany at RBGE between the 1770s and 1840s.

Dr Noltie explained how the new plant trail and book underscores the historical relationship between the RBGE and India. He said: “The links between the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and India go back for two and a half centuries. Surgeons who studied botany at the Garden, as part of their medical training at the University of Edinburgh, would travel to India and lay the foundations of Western knowledge of the flora of the country through their written plant descriptions, the herbarium specimens they prepared and the botanical drawings they commissioned. Much of this material remains within the RBGE collections and has been the inspiration for the book marking the anniversary.’’

He added: “Today, some 700 Indian species are grown at RBGE. Many of these plants may be familiar to our visitors, but others probably less so. The plants on the trail have been chosen to illustrate the continuing importance of India’s biodiversity and the stories of the collectors who brought them to the UK.’’

Both the Indian Plant Trail and the book will be inaugurated by H.E. Mr Y.K. Sinha, Indian High Commissi oner to the United Kingdom, during a visit to the Garden on Sunday (6 August).

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