Research without borders celebrated in plant diplomacy

A celebration of plant diplomacy took place last week at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) with a delegation of Russian dignitaries witnessing the opening of a new Siberian Section of the capital’s world-renowned Rock Garden.

The short ceremony at the Siberian Section, led by Mr Andrey A Pritsepov, Consul General Consulate of the Russian Federation in Edinburgh, recognises the growing cooperation between RBGE and Russian botanical institutes in plant research and conservation. Also in attendance were Dr Alexander Demidov, Director of the Main Botanic Garden, Moscow, and Ms Svetlana Potapova, Academic Secretary of the Russian Council of Botanic Gardens. It was followed by the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation “to promote cooperation between the two institutions in education and in academic research in plant resources”.

As plants transcend political boundaries, botanists and horticulturists work around the world in the interests of conserving natural habitats and inspiring people and communities in the natural capital that sustains them. In recent years RBGE has renewed collaborations with colleagues in Russia, including an official visit in 2016 by RBGE Regius Keeper, Simon Milne, to the Main Botanic Garden Moscow.

In 2011 dialogue started between RBGE and the South Siberian Botanic Garden (SSBG). The intention was to mount combined expeditions to the Russian Altai, taking along students to train them in all aspects of plant exploration. Since then four fieldtrips have been undertaken, with the RBGE contingency being coordinated by Alpines Supervisor John Mitchell, who has spoken of outstanding collaboration in the field. Many of the specimens collected on these trips will feature in the new area of the Rock Garden.

RBGE Regius Keeper Simon Milne explained: “This is a celebration of research without borders. We are working with 35 countries to advance plant research and combat the loss of biodiversity. Only by working in partnership can we present the high-quality botanical research, conservation and education to preserve the plants on which our world depends. It is a great honour and pleasure to host the Consul General and our colleagues from Moscow”.  

Noting the significance of the event for his home country, Mr Pritsepov added: “I am delighted to witness the plant diplomacy at work in real time with the opening of the Siberian flora exhibition in the Edinburgh Botanic Garden.

“The universal language of nature is a way of finding common ground and fostering understanding between the nations when diplomacy of words seems to stumble. It is heartening to anticipate that the visitors of Edinburgh Botanic Garden now have an opportunity to experience the demure and subtle beauty of Siberian flora, and I am looking forward to the opening of the Scottish flora section in the Main Moscow Botanic Garden.”

Dr Alexander Demidov concluded: “We are very happy with the development of cooperation with RBGE, who we respect very much as we are a young botanical garden only 70 years old. Simon Milne and Pete Hollingsworth, RBGE’s Director of Science, visited the Main Botanical Garden in Moscow to celebrate the 70th anniversary and, following discussions on cooperation at that time, it was proposed to make an exposition of Siberian flora at RBGE.  The signing of the MOC paves the way for greater cooperation in Science between the two organisations.”

Russia is the largest country on earth with an area of 6,592,800 square miles and the planet’s largest expanse of forest. Its three distinct climate regions and diverse landscapes  are home to thousands of plant species. Many popular UK garden plants such as Dianthus superbus , Erythronium sibericum and Rhododendron ledebourii and Pulsatilla turczaninovii originate from Russia.

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