The China Connection

The China Connection

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[Mark Watson, Head of Major Floras] The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's links with China go back a very long way. China's an extraordinary country, rich in culture and amazing biodiversity. Across all of our four sites, we have about 1600 plant species collected from China. So we play our part in the research and conservation of Chinese plants for future generations.
[Narrator] China has a diverse flora of over 30,000 species, 10% of the world's plants. The Garden's long and active partnerships with China are about sharing knowledge.
[Martyn Dickson, Horticulturist] The roots grow out and the wind comes along and it burns the little roots and it makes them grow more fibrous roots.
[Narrator] The Royal Botanic Garden partners the Chinese Union of Botanic Gardens, bringing horticulture students to Edinburgh.
[David Tricker, Horticulturist] So here we have a Cotoneaster and this is a plant from China and this'll be fully hardy outside.
[Narrator] Here they learn latest techniques, many returning to senior posts. The Botanics has a world renowned collection of rhododendrons found in China and Myanmar by Scottish collector, George Forrest, cared for and researched, still creating a colourful landscape in Scotland.
[Leonie Paterson, Archivist] Forrest earned himself the reputation as the Indiana Jones of plant collectors and I think that's well deserved.
[Narrator] The Garden has a rich archive of the plant collector's adventures.
[Leonie Paterson] And we have letters like this one here, where he's showing, this is a double rope crossing, rope bridge crossing, so you can see his drawing here of the ropes going across, this is the Mekong river and essentially you attach yourself to a slider and you like a flying fox, over the river you would go.
[Narrator] The Himalayan region is a crossroads for plants, spreading from the Mediterranean and Eastern Asia from the Tibetan plateau and the plains of India, coming together in Nepal to create an incredible diversity of plant species. On expedition with scientists from the mountain kingdom, the Royal Botanic Garden is recording data on habitats and finding new ways for people to learn about their plant world.
[Bhaskar Adhikari, Plant Taxonomist] Seed, fruits, flowers and how they look like in the habitat.
[Narrator] Annually compiled digital guide to the flora of the country. For Nepalis living in the countryside, it shows where plants grow and possible risks to humans and animals.
[Bhaskar Adhikari] And we are producing this in two languages, English and Nepali, so that people in Nepal can read about the plants.
[Narrator] Bamboo growing on the Chinese hillside in Edinburgh, in China it's devoured by Giant Pandas.
[Linda Neaves, Molecular Ecologist] They basically just eat vast quantities of it and it goes through their digestive system quite quickly. They get out whatever nutrients and proteins they can and then get rid of it. What you can see is there's still a lot of quite solid material, so there's almost entire leaves, still quite solid bits of stem, solid mass of not very well-digested material.
[Narrator] DNA techniques now help the Royal Botanic Garden advise China's national parks which bamboo to plant and where.
[Linda Neaves] The taxonomy of these bamboos is incredibly complicated and one of the main aims of this project at The Botanics is to try and work out exactly which species are where and which ones might need to be replanted in order to restore and conserve Giant Panda habitat.
[Herbarium visitor] This specimen is in a very good preservation.
[Narrator] Plant DNA experts from Kunming Institute of Botany enjoy a twinning visit to The Royal Botanic Garden's world-famous herbarium, home to three million specimens, many of them centuries old plants.
[Peter Hollingsworth, Director of Science] Plants form a wonderful common currency for international relations. Plant diplomacy is a phrase we like to give to that and over the years we've seen many distinguished leaders and politicians from China, as well of course, as many researchers come and visit The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and celebrate that partnership between the two countries based on that simple shared purpose of understanding plant diversity and conserving it.
[Simon Milne, Regius Keeper] Well we work in about 35 different countries but there's a strong Chinese link here.
[Peter Hollingsworth] It's always fantastic to watch visitors from China, I mean especially to watch them come and study Chinese plants here in Edinburgh, that wonderful legacy collection.
[Narrator] The legacy of friendship with China is as rich as the colours of the plants which The Royal Botanic Garden has conserved and displayed down the years.