- Arabian & Soqotran Collection
- Seasonally Dry Forest and Cerrado Collection
- Scottish Plant Collection
- Sino - Himalayan Flora Collection
- Target 8 Collection
Arabian & Soqotran Collection
The Soqotra Archipelago contains one of the richest and best-preserved dry tropical floras in the world.
It contains over 850 flowering plant species, of which some 300 are endemic including such botanical oddities as the "cucumber tree" (Dendrosicyos socotranus) and the "dragon's blood tree" (Dracaena cinnabari).
It has been described as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean". However, major developments planned for the islands pose a real threat to Soqotra's unique biodiversity.
Following Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour's historic expedition in 1879-80, staff at RBGE have since 1989 made a number of expeditions to the islands and are now playing a leading role in providing the data and expertise necessary to conserve its globally important biodiversity.
Large areas of the tropics are subject to long dry seasons. The forests and woodlands that grow in these areas are quite different from rain forests, which attract much greater attention from both scientists and conservationists. Such seasonal areas are more suitable for agriculture and human settlement and consequently deforestation has been much greater than in the rain forests. The RBGE has been studying two types of seasonal vegetation, seasonally dry tropical forests and cerrado (savanna woodland) in South and Central America for over 30 years.
The objective of this living collection is to cultivate cerrado and dry forest plants for future public display. Our living collections of one hundred species from Brazil and Costa Rica form a unique educational resource to publicise these little-known environments. Furthermore, they help underpin research in tropical legumes, Sapotaceae and Sterculiaceae in our Systematics and Evolution section. A further, critical aim is to understand how these species can best be grown because most have never been cultivated. This requires careful experimental manipulation of growing conditions (e.g., light levels, seasonal watering, and the addition of aluminium for some cerrado species).
RBGE's Scottish Plant Project was first set up in 1991 to monitor and conserve threatened plant populations in Scotland, and to provide advice on habitat management. A major part of the project has been the collection and cultivation of these pecies to understand how to grow them and to use them in recovery programmes.
In Edinburgh there has been the creation of the Scottish Heath Garden & the Ecological Garden. Plant trails have been established at the three regional gardens to show Scotland's native flora and to highlight threatened species.
RBGE has a long history of expertise in the Sino-Himalayan region: Bhutan and China and has responded to a call from the botanists in Nepal to address this urgent need by leading an international team of scientists working with them on the production of a Flora of Nepal.
RBGE is renowned for the cultivation and scientific study of the flora of China. With an estimated 30,000 species of higher plants, China holds 12% of the world's plant diversity. More than 10% of the living collection at Edinburgh is of known wild Chinese origin, making it the richest collection of Chinese plants in the West.
The Flora of China Project is a major international collaborative venture between Chinese and Western botanists with the task of producing an English-language revision of Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae, the Chinese flora written over the last few decades in Chinese. This project was initiated in the early 1980s, and has grown to involve hundreds of scientists worldwide. It continues to the present day with the establishment of Lijiang Botanic Garden.
With the completion of the Flora of Bhutan in early 2002, the country has for the first time a Flora describing all its native and introduced flowering plants.
For its size (about the same as Switzerland), Bhutan has an extremely rich flora, now known to be 5603 species. This includes 82 endemics, found nowhere else in the world, 39 of which have been described during the writing of the Flora.
The reason for this richness is partly to do with the position of Bhutan in the East Himalaya, between India and Tibet, but also because of the fine state of preservation of its vegetation (with 72.5% of its area still forested). The range of habitats is also large - from subtropical lowlands at 200 metres in the south, to extreme alpine conditions in the north, with several mountain peaks of over 7000 metres.
Since ancient times, the people of Nepal have depended upon plants and plant products are a mainstay of everyday life. Today, almost 90% of Nepalese rely on subsistence agriculture, with plants performing a vital role as arable crops, fodder, fruit and vegetables, fuel, building materials and medicines. Like most of the Himalaya, much of Nepal has been greatly modified by man over the last four to five thousand years and little of the original forest remains. Conservation is a high priority for HM Government of Nepal, and a network of protected and conservation areas have been successfully developed covering about 16% of the land. However, the formulation and implementation of successful conservation measures depends upon accurate and well-communicated information on plant diversity.
Current activities are focussed towards the production of the first volume of the Flora of Nepal and capacity building projects in Nepal (e.g. a Darwin Initiative project) aimed at strengthening the institutional and human resources so that the Nepalese can fully engage in the production of the Flora.
The Sino - Himalayan project has also infuenced plantings at Benmore where in 1993 the construction of the Bhutanese Glade was undertaken. The Nepalese area at Dawyck was inaugurated in 2005 and brings together mostly woody material from Nepal collected on recent expeditions by RBGE staff working in collaboration with Nepalese colleagues. It is part of important Nepalese material distributed across our four Gardens that provides the basis for scientific and horticultural research on Himalayan plants.
The Nepalese area at Dawyck gives the opportunity to highlight our research interests in Nepal and also to inform visitors of the botanical wealth of Nepal and the conservation issues facing these plants in this fragile Himalayan country.
This target states that by 2020 75% of a country's threatened plant species are to be in cultivation, and 20% available for conservation projects.
Britain has 345 vascular plants that are nationally listed as threatened. The Project has plotted the native sited of each threatened species and then has overlain the location of British Botanic Gardens.
From this it has been possible to identify the closest botanic garden to each species and propose that the garden grow the species and "adopt" or take responsibility for them.
In addition to supporting the co-ordination of the Target 8 project, the four sites of the RBGE have adopted a number of taxa to ascertain the cultivation requirements and to monitor the in-situ site.