Planting the seeds of a new partnership for Garden and MSP

Ben Macpherson MSP, recently elected member for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, has made his first behind-the-scenes visit to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), meeting personnel across the Science and Horticultural Divisions who are behind research and conservation initiatives at home and around the world.

Accompanied by Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE, Mr Macpherson started his visit in the Library where he was provided with an insight into the archives collection of books and maps dating back over the centuries with Serials Librarian Graham Hardy using historic documents to plot the course of the Garden's move over four locations in 346 years.

Escorted by Director of Science Professor Pete Hollingsworth, Mr Macpherson was given insight into the workings of the RBGE Herbarium with explanations as to why it is a crucial research and conservation tool for experts around the world.

Following an introduction to the preserved collections by Deputy Herbarium Curator Dr Elspeth Haston, the MSP was invited to play his part in the ongoing digitisation of the Herbarium's extensive three million plus specimens by photographing Senecio cambrensis Rosser. This species, a member of the daisy and dandelion family, was selected appropriately because Senecio cambrensis evolved in Leith, most likely sometime in the last half century. Its evolutionary origin is by hybridisation between two other Senecio species and then subsequent genetic isolation from its parent species. Specimens were first collected in 1974, but it was last seen in 1989

Specimens were first collected in 1974, but it was last seen in 1989. This reflects a fascinating evolutionary example of the origin and extinction of a species within a human life time, and because of this it has been used as a model system for studying the evolutionary process.

Moving from the Herbarium, introductions were exchanged with David Knott, Curator of the Living Collections, and Glasshouse Supervisor Louise Galloway. After a general introduction and explanation of the fact that RBGE is, in fact, four Gardens cultivating a wide diversity of species – including Scottish species – and many of which are included in active conservation and reintroduction programmes, the next part of the visit focused on the non-public research houses. These, it was explained, are home to many specimens being cultivated as vital parts of RBGE's contribution to global work in the study and conservation of plants from key research groups, many of which are endangered in their native habitats.

Mr Macpherson was also shown photographs of the devastating damaged suffered by the public and research houses in the January 2012 storm, with the Regius Keeper describing the current plans and funding required to replace and upgrade these houses. His visit to the Glasshouses concluded on a lighter note, however, with an introduction to RBGE's mighty Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum), which spectacularly flowered for the first time 12 months ago.

The final stop of the day was to the recently restored Botanic Cottage which was first built at the Garden's Leith Walk site in the 18th century. Mr Macpherson was welcomed by Community Engagement Coordinator Sutherland Forsyth who explained the dramatic story so far of this, the Garden's newest and oldest building.

With a strong interest in community engagement the MSP was keen to hear about the varied band of organisations already using the building for a range of different activities. Bidding farewell he expressed an interest in hearing of further groups who might benefit specifically through engagement

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