Scotland/China news

China at the Botanics

by Dale Finlayson, Edinburgh branch

On 12 June 2012, some 20 SCA members and friends met at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, for a look at some of the plants from China which can be found in this famous Scottish institution.

We were in the expert hands of horticulturalist Simon Crutchley, who oversees the Botanic’s Chinese Hillside and makes frequent visits to the Jade Dragon Field Station in Yunnan province. This is a conservation project run between the RBGE, the Kunming Institute of Botany and Lijiang Alpine and Plant Research Institute of Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Science, with which the Garden maintains a close working relationship.

Left to right - examining Paeonia Veitchii ; a sweep of blue poppies ; Simon on the blue poppies

We learned that an eighth of the world’s plant species – 31,000 - are to be found in China, and of these, half are in Yunnan. Many are now commonly found in Britain’s gardens, brought back by plant hunters who visited China in the 19th and 20th centuries, notably George Forrest from the Botanics.

The RBGE has a long association with China, beginning with plant collection and now focusing on the promotion of biodiversity, sustainability, and education – since the 1930s botanists from China have come to study at the Garden and continue to do so today as part of the RBGE's co-operation with institutes in Yunnan.

Beginning with a purple-flowering Paeonia veitchii on the Hillside, we moved down past numerous rhododendron, Himalayan birches, acers, bamboo, magnolia, primula, and the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), once known only as a fossil until in 1944 it was found growing in China, and ending with the Garden’s spectacular display of blue poppies (Meconopsis grandis). Unfortunately, late spring frosts had killed off the buds of the Handkerchief tree (Davidia Involucrata), which should have been flowering during our visit.

After the walk, we adjourned to the Loon Fung Chinese Restaurant nearby for an eagerly anticipated meal – a deliciously satisfying end to the evening.