WAITING FOR THE FLOWERS: THE ROLE OF LIVING COLLECTIONS IN TAXONOMIC RESEARCH AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDEN EDINBURGH

George Argent

Abstract


Since the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) was established in 1670 as a collection of medicinal plants, taxonomy has been at its heart. Even before the publication of Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum it was important to establish the correct identity of medicinal plants for use by the doctors of the day. Over the years the location and focus of the Garden have evolved to serve many and varied functions. Taxonomy, however, has continued to play a key role in preserving the special nature of RBGE as a ‘botanic garden’. From the earliest years exotic plants were introduced to the Garden, giving it an international flavour, and this has continued with staff today collaborating with many different gardens and botanical institutions around the world. For over 300 years living plants have been brought to the Garden, grown to maturity and described. Many of the early novelties came from North America and China, especially gymnosperms and rhododendrons. Today, much of our effort is focused on plants from areas that are botanically rich but poorly known, such as the Malesian region, and on families Begoniaceae, Gesneriaceae, Ericaceae and Zingiberaceae. The expertise and ingenuity of the horticultural staff have been essential in cultivating unknown species and bringing them into flower so that they can be scientifically described. This has been aided by an enlightened policy of including horticulturists on collecting expeditions so that their knowledge can be used to bring plants back in good health but also to better understand the natural conditions in which they grow so that the plants can be grown to perfection in Edinburgh.

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References


ARGENT, G., LAMB, A., PHILLIPPS, A. & COLLENETTE, S. (1988). Rhododendrons of Sabah. Sabah National Parks Publication, No. 8. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.


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