Martin Gardner with Darwin specimen

For the first time visitors to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) will be able to see an original preserved specimen collected by Charles Darwin from the Galapagos Islands during the Voyage of the Beagle in 1835.

Joined by 49 other partners across Edinburgh to showcase precious objects in celebration of 1,000 years of Scotland’s capital city, RBGE is showcasing the Darwin specimen and three other delights - the 200 year old Sabal palm which is the Garden’s oldest plant, the Fossil Tree and Rhubarb Plot.

The Darwin specimen, normally kept behind-the-scenes in RBGE’s Herbarium, has gone on public display in the Garden’s John Hope Gateway.

The Sabal palm in the Tropical Palm House is thought to have been brought to Edinburgh as a seed over 200 years ago.  It may well be one of the world’s oldest living Sabal palms as the ones that grow natively in Bermuda tend to get blown down by tropical hurricanes.  The Sabal bermudana was already a mature palm when it was moved by horse-drawn barrel from the Botanics’ previous Leith Walk residence in 1822. It spent the next 13 years in a lean-to glasshouse, until it was moved to the Tropical Palm House, one of the tallest glasshouses in Britain.

Several fossil trees were uncovered at Craigleith quarry between 1835 and 1865, while mining the sandstone for the Palm Houses. The longest is the central display in the Garden’s Fossil Courtyard surrounded by ‘living fossils’ - plants like the monkey puzzle tree and the Ginkgo biloba, whose close ancestors were around millions of years ago.

The “root of barbarians’’, aka rhubarb, was first introduced to Scotland in 1763 by John Hope, the King’s Botanist to George III. Hope was given some seeds of Rheum Palmatum by Dr James Mounsey, brought from St Petersburg's physic garden. At the time, Turkish rhubarb was an expensive treatment for digestive ailments, particularly constipation. Hope soon grew a much cheaper source and made quite a tidy profit from it. But success soon undermined sales- in 1782 he recorded that ‘scarcely a garden in Scotland is without a rhubarb plant’.

Rhubarb is still grown at RBGE in a patch behind the recently restored Botanic Cottage.

Creating a fresh perspective on Edinburgh’s rich narrative of history, culture, heritage andeveryday life, Edinburgh’s 101 Objects is a new visitor experience set to bring the city’s colourful, and sometimes dark, past to life through some of its most treasured objects and curiosities.

The city-wide campaign is a first for Edinburgh. The partners, including city institutions, attractions, universities, galleries and local pubs. Over 80% of the 101 Objects can also be found in venues free to visit.  

Running until April 2018, the 12-month campaign forms part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, made possible by a city collaboration on an unprecedented scale. The brainchild of and developed by Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG), Marketing Edinburgh and Edinburgh World Heritage, the partners have joined forces with 44 object owners to make Edinburgh’s 101 Objects a reality. Funding support from the object owners, Virgin Money and a successful application to the VisitScotland Growth Fund has enabled the campaign.

Seven themes provide a thread through the Edinburgh’s 101 journey through time: Building a City, Faith & Nation; City of Innovation; Arts & Performance; Everyday Life; On the Dark Side and Books, Words, Ideas.  A balanced combination of familiar favourites including The Stone of Destiny, Sherlock Holmes statue and Dolly the Sheep, sit along the first Edinburgh International Festival programme from 1947, the 200-year old Sabal palm tree, the original New Town Plan and the Witches Well.

A new website www.edinburgh.org/101 presents all 101 objects, providing an entertaining insight into each object’s personal history and its place within Edinburgh’s gripping story. With each item numbered 1-101, visitors can explore the objects, arranging them by locale or theme, creating a personal visitor experience tailored to their interests.  Designed to be an engaging information resource, the site also acts as a mobile geo-mapped guidebook, enabling visitors to navigate the city and discover the physical objects for themselves.

Edinburgh’s 101 Objects which celebrates Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, runs from May 2017-April 2018 in various locations across the city.  www.edinburgh.org/101  #Edinburgh101

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