Exhibition draws delight on a flourishing 200-year relationship

As Britain and Nepal mark 200 years of diplomatic relations - since the Treaty of Sugauli ended conflict between the British East India Company and the Himalayan kingdom - the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is celebrating its own unique Nepalese relationship. In the eponymous Flora of Nepal exhibition, visitors to the Garden’s John Hope Gateway are being treated to an exceptional display of contemporary and historic works of botanical art.

 This is an exhibition that could only be made possible by a sustained and growing relationship over more than two centuries. By the time the Treaty of Sugauli was signed, in March 1816, RBGE’s scientific links were already well-established. They extend back to 1802 when Scottish surgeon-naturalist Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton made the first natural history collections in Nepal. Known as the ‘Father’ of Nepalese botany, his research established a collaboration continuing to this day with the Flora of Nepal programme. Taught botany by Professor John Hope in RBGE’s classroom of the Scottish Enlightenment – recently rebuilt as the “Botanic Cottage” - Buchanan-Hamilton spent a year in Nepal, collecting and documenting over 1100 plant species. Over 100 of these were captured in coloured drawings by his Bengali artist.

 Built on the Buchanan-Hamilton legacy and headed-up by Edinburgh’s Dr Mark Watson, the Flora of Nepal programme is today producing the first comprehensive account of the country’s plants. With partners in Nepal and Japan - and involving more than 100 botanical experts worldwide – the team is exploring regions that have been little visited by botanists. The work includes describing and illustrating plants new to science and documenting those already understood. This knowledge is used to conserve Nepal’s biodiversity, and ensure that it is used sustainably so that it will still be available for future generations.

 During March 2015 a group of seven botanical artists with RBGE connections visited Nepal to study its flora and teach botanical painting workshops in a local school. Through drawing and reference photographs made on excursions, the artists gathered source material to complete the detailed botanical works now on display highlighting just a few examples of Nepal’s remarkable biodiversity and how plants are used today.

 “Buchanan-Hamilton understood the importance of the collections he was making and knew that 800 of these species were new to science”, said Mark Watson. “The lasting legacy of his notes, drawings and dried herbarium specimens continue to be of great relevance today as they help resolve the identities of the many hundreds of species that were described from his collections.

 “RBGE is proud of its deep connections with Nepal and it is appropriate that we should be celebrating this as part of the wider Britain Nepal Bicentenary. Today we combine these historical collections with modern research on the Flora of Nepal, collaborating with Nepalese botanists to provide accurate information on the 7000 known Nepalese plants so they can be understood, conserved and used sustainably. Plants are fundamental to  everyday life people and this research is vital in enabling Nepalese people adapt to the very real challenges they face from invasive plants and a changing climate.”


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