Treasures Under Glass

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[Narrator] The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has a precious and world-leading collection of plants. The environments created under glass allow important research and conservation work. The horticulture team look after the plants 365 days a year.
[Louise Galloway, Glasshouse Supervisor] It never ceases to amaze me, that in our glass houses, we grow over a third of all the living collections. That's over 45,000 plants in a space the size of just over a football pitch. We have a number of conservation collections where we hold rare and endangered plants from around the world, and botanic gardens are increasingly important to safeguard and grow these endangered plants.
[Narrator] Many thousands of visitors tour the public glass houses. Even on a dark day in winter, bright colours of tropical species are there to enjoy, but many plants will face extinction unless they continue to be conserved here.
[Mark Hughes, Begonia Systematist]This is Begonia samharensis, one of the rarest plants in the world, and this occurs on the top of a very small island called Samhar in the Northern Indian Ocean, and indeed, its stronghold of distribution is now in the glass houses here in Edinburgh.
[Narrator] Scientists from Edinburgh explore richly diverse areas of the tropics to research begonias, always in partnership with botanists from host countries. With many Begonia species rare or not cultivated elsewhere, the Botanics can be the only place to see them.
[Mark Hughes] The Botanics, our mission statement is to explore, conserve and explain the world of plants, and with the Begonia collection, we're doing all of those things, absolutely. We've built up this collection through targeting areas that are really, really diverse. So having this different collection here, this is a real privilege. We can look at Begonias actually, as canaries of the forest, if you like, because they have such tiny distributions, they are really indicative of the health of that particular part of the forest. They're much more easily lost due to logging or climate change, for example. So therefore, it's really important that they have a home here in the Botanics.
[Narrator] On expedition to the Island of Sulawesi, the Royal Botanic Garden and partners from Indonesia work on taxonomy and conservation of the island's diverse flora. Every species they study, the garden leaves specimens and plants in the care of botanic gardens there before conserving them in Edinburgh.
[Hannah Atkins, Gesneraceae Taxonomist] The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh is very fortunate in having dedicated horticultural staff who specialise in particular collections. Sometimes the plants that we've travelled miles to study are not flowering or fruiting, they're sterile. So the great advantage of having horticultural staff is that they can take cuttings, keep them alive in the field, bring them back to the glass houses here, and only then when we grow them here and they flower and fruit, we can find out what they are.
[Narrator] Excitement rises in one of Edinburgh's humid glass houses after the towering species, Amorphophallus blooms. From only a bud, the plant has grown by centimetres, sometimes in a day.
[Paulina Maciejewska-Daruk, Horticulturist] You can see how high I need to actually climb to do this. Do you know how tall the plant was? Yes, 273, that was last measurement at one o'clock.
[Narrator] In Sumatra, Indonesia, they call it corpse flower from its smell. The spadix of the plant heats up. The hot air rises, dispersing a stench over the jungle.
[Peter Wilkie, Sapotaecea Systematist] It just heats up to help get the smell out to attract pollinators. It's amazing how much energy a plant will put out just to get pollinated, but that whole structure is just for pollination.
[Narrator] From high in the glass house to wading through water...
[Horticulturist at work] I've got it.
[Narrator] Skills of horticulture again, this time among the lilies. A weekly health check to protect these beautiful species against pests and pathogens. In glass houses, some over 150 years old, treasures under glass that are a snapshot of tropical and subtropical regions of the world, cared for by Royal Botanic Gardens staff vital to everyone's future.
[Simon Milne, Regius Keeper] You got an incredible resource, not just for Scotland or the United Kingdom, but for the world, addressing so many of today's problems, but particularly addressing the issue of protecting the natural capital that we have around the world, and not just to admire the beauty of the plants and have the big lilies growing in the pond and the palms and all those very impressive species. But it's also about looking at those plants, which we use every day and benefit from every day, cocoa, tea, chocolate. So it's also about discovering the use of plants as well as admiring their beauty. So it is the place to visit in Edinburgh without a doubt.