A year-long programme of events at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) to celebrate the bicentenary of the relationship between Britain and Nepal is concluding with the launch of a new audio trail.

When the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli was signed to end conflict between the British East India Company and Nepal, RBGE already had scientific links with the Himalayan kingdom.  These links extended back to 1802 when Scottish surgeon-naturalist Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton made the first natural history collections in Nepal. Buchanan-Hamilton spent a year there, collecting and documenting over 1100 plant species, and he is now known as the “Father’’ of Nepalese botany.

Taught botany by Professor John Hope in RBGE’s classroom of the Scottish Enlightenment – recently rebuilt as the “Botanic Cottage’’, Buchanan-Hamilton’s research established a collaboration which continues today with the Flora of Nepal programme.

Now, the history of RBGE’s work in Nepal is captured in the new audio trail. Visitors to the Garden over the festive season will be amongst the first to experience the trail, available via a mobile app.

Many of the plants grown at RBGE originally came from the Himalayas, and this trail tells the stories of 12 Nepalese plants, some of which may be familiar, but others probably less so. The plants have been chosen to illustrate the continuing importance of Nepal’s biodiversity to its people, the stories of the collectors who brought them back to the UK and RBGE’s ongoing research programme in Nepal. RBGE is coordinating the Flora of Nepal project to produce the first comprehensive catalogue of the plants of this biodiverse Himalayan country. The Flora of Nepal is an international collaboration with partners in Nepal and Japan, and involves more than 100 botanical experts worldwide.

The stories are told by Dr Mark Watson, Dr Colin Pendry, Dr Bhaskar Adhikari and Dr Alan Elliott, four of the Edinburgh botanists working on the Flora of Nepal, and the audio trail is available through a downloadable app which includes an interactive map to guide users round the garden.

Dr Pendry commented: “Visitors are sure to recognise several of these species as they are commonly grown in British gardens, but we hope they will enjoy hearing about their importance to the people of Nepal and the plant collectors who brought them back.’’

Events this year at RBGE have included The Flora of Nepal exhibition of historic and contemporary plant portraits from Nepal, alongside examples of how plants are used in Nepal today. Staff at RBGE oversaw the creation of the Biodiversity Education Garden at the National Botanic Garden, Kathmandu. Regius Keeper Simon Milne joined an expedition in which RBGE was able to collect seed for the first time since 2005. Mr Milne returned from Nepal with 600 metres of prayer flags which were displayed as one of the main features in the 2016 Botanic Lights event.

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