Taxonomic Collections

Begonia Collection

The Begonia Collection in the Support GlasshousesBegonia is one of the largest angiosperm genera, containing over 1600 species. Although the genus has a pan-tropical distribution, most of its species are narrow endemics. These properties make Begonia a superb arena for phylogenetic and biogeographic studies. Large genera such as Begonia often remain among the most poorly known, yet potentially offer the greatest insights into evolution and biogeography.

Begonia chloroneura collected from the Philippines in 1997RBGE has become an increasingly important centre for Begonia research during the last 5 years, largely due to the funding provided by the M.L. MacIntyre Trust. During this time the collection has grown steadily, with significant species additions from China, Africa and Sulawesi. Population level samples have also been collected for a small number of species, including the horticulturally important and threatened Begonia of the Socotra archipelago. The living collection is especially important in providing insights into Begonia systematics as the genus often makes poor herbarium material.

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Bulb Collection

The Bulb Collection in the Support Glasshouses.Many of the bulbous plants in the research collection come from South African biodiversity hotspots which are under increasing threat of destruction due to anthropological activities. A large number of these accessions have been collected over many years by B.L. Burtt, O. Hilliard, and K. Jong and recollection would require a very substantial amount of time and money, or would be impossible due to plant or habitat loss.

Tulbaghia fragrans used for cytological & distribution studiesA large proportion of the plants are not investigated cytologically at present but due to their inflorescence structure and their reliable, predictable flowering pattern they provide ideal teaching material for meiotic studies. Some species are still required for current research projects (e.g. Galtonia sp, Scilla natalensis).

The collection also includes the Tulbaghia accessions, which are used as backup material for the MSc cytology practicals. The collection is also part of a medium term project to investigate cytological evolution, especially of Nucleolar Organiser region (NOR) sites in plants.

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Conifer Collection

The Conifer Collection in the Support GlasshousesThe RBGE has been a world centre for conifer research for the last 30 years and maintains living collections that are among the most diverse worldwide. Current research interests include conservation of threatened taxa and the systematics of Podocarpaceae and Araucariaceae. A major research programme focuses on Podocarpus s.l. and New Caledonian Araucaria spp. It involves alpha taxonomy, molecular systematics, population genetics, cone development, cytology, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging and propagation research.

Acmopyle pancheri from New CaledoniaThe International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP) has a wider remit for ex-situ and in-situ conservation of threatened conifers and their associated taxa. Many of the conifers are from the subtropical montane areas of SE Asia, the Pacific and the neotropics. Current RBGE accessions of these taxa are often the only examples in cultivation within Europe. The collections are also used regularly for teaching MSc, HND and other students.

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Cryptogamic Plants and Fungi

Phallus impudicus, the widely distributed stinkhorn. RBGE is the only botanic garden in the world that specialises in cryptogams (non-flowering plants). These plants include bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts), lichens, fungi, algae, and ferns and fern allies. Though cryptogams are often overlooked because they are less conspicuous than flowering plants, they are vitally important in many different ecosystems.

The Cryptogamic Garden at Edinburgh is the first of its kind to be constructed in a botanic garden. It was established in the early 1990s, at the western end of the Demonstration Garden, using young trees and clumps of woodland plants lifted, with the owners' permission, from local woodland habitats.

Lycoperdon pyriforme flourishing at DawyckDawyck's Heron Wood Reserve and Cryptogamic Sanctuary was launched in 1993. This is an area of semi-natural woodland with beech, birch, pine and oak, as well as more open glades. The Sanctuary is left untouched, while the Reserve will have some essential maintenance work carried out on it from time to time. Cryptogams thrive in the resulting range of habitats, and these are monitored frequently. So far over 600 different non-lichenised fungi have been recorded, and many more are expected to be found there in years to come.

Aleuria aurantia, the stemless Orange peel fungusLogan boasts more than 130 lichens on rocks and bark as a result of its pure air quality. In addition, fungi also thrive here, including two species of subterranean stomach fungi (Gasteromycetes) including the Australian Hymenangium album in association with species of Eucalyptus. Large numbers of ferns and mosses have also colonised the garden, including the maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). 

Polytrichum commune found though out the work in bogs and swampy woodlandsBenmore Botanic Garden has perfect growing conditions for many cryptogams. The humid atmosphere and the deep layer of leaf litter on the woodland floor suit ferns and fungi, and lichens thrive on the surfaces of trees and rocks.

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Ferns and fern allies Collection

The Fern Collection in the Support GlasshousesFerns, horsetails and club mosses dominated the Earth's vegetation for 200 million years before flowering plants developed. The living collection continues to have a long term research and Conservation interest, both hardy and temperate and they are important for teaching, education and interpretation.

Adiantum pedatum var. aleuticumThere are 15,000 species worldwide, of which RBGE has over 300 species in cultivation - including the world's largest collection of horsetails.

The RBGE is also undertaking the development of a spore bank, looking into the longevity of spore storage and also the ideal storage temperature be it freezing or refrigeration.

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Gesneriaceae Collection

The Gesneriaceae  Collection in the Support GlasshousesThe Gesneriaceae are an important component of the under storey vegetation in tropical forests world-wide. Subfamily Cyrtandroideae is almost exclusively palaeotropical, subfamily Gesnerioideae is neotropical and the Coronanthereae, a tribe in the Gesneroideae, occurs in E. Australasia and Chile. The larger genera, with wide distributions and yet high levels of local endemism, are excellent tools for considering such biogeographic puzzles. The palaeotropic gesneriads have been a core research group for 50 years, and current work is concentrating both on the larger genera and on the production of taxonomic accounts, checklists and keys.

Aeschynanthus irigaensis from the PhilippinesThe living collection is used for morphological and molecular studies, for research into hybridisation and speciation, seed morphology and ontogeny, floral ontogeny and cytology. Several PhD and MSc projects have been based on the living collection that constitutes a very valuable teaching resource. Many gesneriads flower sporadically and so are collected in the field as vegetative cuttings or seed. A very important aspect of the living collection is to grow on these plants which frequently turn out to be new species. The research collection of Aeschynanthus is the largest anywhere, and our Agalmyla and Cyrtandra collections are increasing in number.

Streptocarpus itremensis collected by Michael Moeller in MadagascarThe collection also includes Saintpaulia and Streptocarpus from Africa and Madagascar which are extremely important for studies in the developmental genetics of form evolution. Many of the species have not been cultivated before and so knowledge of their requirements is critical to success.

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Leguminosae Collection

The immature flower raceme of Acacia cornigeraThe legumes (family Leguminosae) are the third largest family of flowering plants, with about 18,000 species. Legumes provide food crops, timber, fodder and shade, and fertilise poor soils by nitrogen fixation in their roots.
Legume trees dominate many of the world's most species rich tropical forest ecosystems, but many require basic taxonomic study in order to catalogue their species. For this reason, taxonomic monographs of these genera are a key focus of our research.

Broad-scale evolutionary relationships within the legumes have also been poorly understood, meaning that the true relationships of economically important, evolutionarily derived groups such as peas, beans, soya and lupins, remain obscure. We are contributing molecular systematic data to global efforts to elucidate legume phylogeny and our final research area is in legume flower evolution.

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Pelargonium CollectionClose up of the Pelargonium sidoides flower

The genus Pelargonium comprises some 280 species, mainly from southern Africa, but also from the mountains of E and NE Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Syria and Turkey, Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand, and the southern Atlantic islands of St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. Pelargonium is the seventh most species rich genus of the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa.

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Rhododendron Collection

Rhododendron gathering with Tara by Kamal MadenResearch on Rhododendron in Edinburgh has a 90 year history and is one of the flagship genera of RBGE. They are divided into two main groups: the scaly-leaved or Lepidote rhododendrons, numbering over 500 species, and the non-scaly or Elepidote rhododendrons, with about 300 (mostly larger) species. Species within these two divisions are grouped into subsections.

The Edinburgh collection is planted largely according to subsections. This gives visitors a good visual impression of the different groups, and allows rhododendron specialists to locate and compare closely-related plants easily.

Rhododendron Walk at Dawyck Botanic GardenMore than 250 species, 100 subspecies and a further 300 hybrids of Rhododendron grow at Benmore. It also holds an outstanding collection of Hobbie hybrids, named after the German grower who crossed R. forrestii var. repens and R. williamsanum with existing hybrids to produce a series of dwarfed, hardy rhododendrons.

Dawyck has a unique and extremely valuable rhododendron collection. Rhododendron Walk and Scrape Glen burst with colour between April and June, as does the flamboyant Azalea Terrace.

Rhododendron dalhousiae var. rhabdotum from BhutanAt Logan members of Rhododendron subsection Maddenii flourish in the Walled Garden. This group of rhododendrons is characterised by fragrant white blooms such as those of R. taggianum which grows in the shelter of the castle just inside the Woodland Garden. R. edgeworthii, a rarity in its native Himalayas and south-west China, R. 'Fragrantissimum', which is usually treated as a conservatory plant.

Rhododendron praetervisum, collected in SabahSection Vireya, with about 300 species, is the largest in the genus and shows a huge range of flower, colour, size and shape. Most are epiphytes, growing on trees in their natural habitats.

Active research on Rhododendron sect. Vireya started at RBGE in 1978 and, soon after, new species began to be described and published. A series of expeditions were mounted to SE Asia and New Guinea involving staff from both science and horticulture. Many of these focussed directly on collecting additional species for our expanding collection and making observations in the wild which were pertinent to their cultivation, ecology, conservation and variability.

Rhododendron ericoides, endemic to BorneoThe living collection is by far the largest and most important collection of these plants in cultivation anywhere in the world combining high standards of documentation through BGBASE(c), expert cultivation, and the large numbers of novel introductions. Most require frost protection only and so heating costs are not particularly high. Two temperature regimes are used, tropical for a few of the lowland species and cool temperate for most of the highland species.

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Ginger Collection

Aframomum angustifolium From MadagascarThe collection began in earnest in the 1960s when B.L. Burtt and P. Woods brought material back from their expeditions to Sarawak. As work in the herbarium intensified, new living collections were actively sought so that, by the early 1980s, Edinburgh had the most representative living collection of gingers from Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo.

From the mid 1980s the collection broadened to include species from continental SE Asia (Thailand and Vietnam) collected by Mark Newman. More recently, many collections have been brought from Africa by David Harris and from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands by Axel Dalberg Poulsen.

The collection at RBGE now forms an important part of Zingiberaceae research that reaches out across the world from a centre in Edinburgh. It is in constant use by researchers in Edinburgh and beyond as they describe new species and investigate the biology and conservation status of those already known.

Globba spathulata from BangladeshThe collection at RBGE now forms an important part of Zingiberaceae research that reaches out across the world from a centre in Edinburgh. There may only be one other, equally well-documented collection of a similar size and breadth of representation, at the Smithsonian Institution.

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