01 December 2019

Springtime at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The John Hope Gateway, the main entrance to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, on Arboretum Road.  Named after John Hope, a prominent figure of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment noted for his pioneering experiments on the growth of plants, the John Hope Gateway features a variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions, an information desk, a garden shop, a restaurant, seminar rooms, and a terrace.  

Inside the John Hope Gateway, a green building designed to have the lowest possible impact on the environment.  'Green' features include a passive/natural ventilation system without need for pumps and air conditioning systems; rainwater recycling; smart lighting; a flower-rich green roof; a woodchip-burning 200 kilowatt biomass boiler for heating; a roof-mounted 6 kilowatt vertical axis wind turbine and 135 kilowatt photovoltaic cells for electricity generation; and solar water heating panels for hot water production.       

The John Hope Gateway, as seen from inside the botanic gardens. 

Heading toward the centre of the gardens on a sunny, cool morning, 14 April 2019.

Walking along one of the many paved footpaths snaking through the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  While the deciduous trees are still budding, the grass is well established and tulips and daffodils add a splash of colour to the early spring gardens.

A path leads into a garden of plants that would be found on a Chinese hillside.  The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is home to the largest number of Chinese plants outside China.  Plants in this garden were collected by RBGE botanists during expeditions to native plant habitats, including on the  5,596-metre high Yulong Xue Shan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) in Yunnan, southwest China.  The RBGE's Chinese hillside garden features plants one would find ascending through the main vegetation zones on a Chinese mountain: foothill, shrub, alpine.            

A quiet waterfall cascades through part of the Chinese hillside garden.

A Buddhist monument.

Gracefully arching white magnolia trees provide some early spring colour.

Vibrant pink rhododendrons are some of the earliest bloomers in the gardens.

The Botanic Cottage, which originally stood at the entrance to a prior incarnation of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Leith Walk from 1765.  It was the home of Principal Gardener John Williamson, as well as the main staff and visitor entrance to the Garden and a classroom for Enlightenment-era medical students.  Although threatened with demolition in 2007, the Botanic Cottage was saved following a community campaign, dismantled stone by stone, and rebuilt in its current location in 2014-15.  The lime render and washes on the exterior of the Botanic Cottage were a common 18th century finish for buildings made of stone rubble, creating a more handsome effect and providing weather proofing.      
Raised garden beds located across from the Botanic Cottage will be planted with herbs and other kitchen plants a bit later in the spring.

Inverleith House, located at the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, was designed by David Henderson in 1773 and built for Sir James Rocheid as a family home in 1774 at a cost of £4,109.  A part of the Inverleith estate was sold in 1820 to become the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and Inverleith House and its surrounding land were gifted to the Crown in 1877 to extend the Garden.  Restored after a fire, Inverleith House became the home of the Regius Keeper (director) of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  In subsequent years, Inverleith House accommodated a gallery of modern Scottish art and, since 1986, has housed an exhibition space used by the Garden.  

A towering Monkey Puzzle tree (araucaria araucana), a species of conifer dating back over 100 million years to time of the dinosaurs.  Although native to Chile and Argentina, this at-risk tree species is a familiar sight in Scotland.  The six Monkey Puzzles in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh were collected in Chile and Argentina in order to safeguard the genetic diversity of the species.  In their native habitat, Monkey Puzzles grow on the slopes of volcanoes and have bark adapted to withstand fire.  They grow as separate male and female trees, which look the same until they produce cones.  Monkey Puzzle seeds are edible and form an important part of the Mapuche-Pehuenche people's diet.  The name Monkey Puzzle was coined in 1850 by a landowner in England with an araucaria araucana on his property, who remarked that 'it would even puzzle a monkey to climb that tree'.   

A Blue Atlas cedar (cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Group') alongside a path through the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The Blue Atlas cedar is native to the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa, where it grows in mountainside forests between 1,370 and 2,200 metres altitude. Blue Atlas cedar forests provide vital habitat for endangered wildlife, such as the Barbary Macaque.

The East Gate Lodge, located at the eastern entrance of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Inverleith Row.  Designed by famous Scottish architect William Playfair and completed in 1826, the East Gate Lodge served as the residence of the Curator of the Experimental Garden of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (the Caley).    After 1864, when the Experimental Garden was incorporated into the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the East Gate Lodge became home to successive senior staff, both Horticultural Curators and, for a brief time, the Regius Keeper (Director of the Botanic Garden).  Today, after extensive renovation, the East Gate Lodge houses a visitor reception office, a coffee bar, and restrooms.  

The Alpine House provides dedicated conditions for a wide range of alpine plants from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's collection.  The Alpine House's roof provides essential overhead shelter from wet winter conditions, substituting for the protective snow cover these plants would experience in the wild.  An open front permits air circulation, to reinforce the hardiness of the plant specimens.  

Inside the Alpine House, a naturalistic setting for montane plants mimics wild conditions, with rocky outcrops and some running water.  Over time, the alpine species planted into the tufa rock wall will self-seed and gradually spread to cover the entire wall.

A more traditional, wood-framed alpine house, open at both ends to promote air circulation.

A closer look into the low, brick-walled cold frames.  Hinged glass panes can be raised to allow in fresh air or closed to protect the plants from wet winter conditions. 

A traditional approach to growing alpine plants is to pot them into free-draining soil-based compost in clay pots and plunged into sand beds.  This keeps the roots cool and moist in summer, while in the winter the sand is allowed to dry out to protect the pot and plant roots from the cold.  In their native habitats, these cushion plants spend the winter protected by snow or tucked into vertical crags, having adapted to to survive the harsh, windy mountain conditions.  

Colourful tulips in the cold frames provide early spring colour.

The Temperate Palm House, first opened in 1858, renovated in 2004-2005, and re-opened to the public on 18 March 2005 by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay. 

Below: The front and reverse sides of the pamphlet and guide map provided to paying visitors to the glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. 

Below: An adult ticket for admission to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh glasshouse, dated 14 April 2019.

The interior of the Temperate Palm House, the first of ten separate glasshouses, each devoted to a distinct climatic zone and its associated plant species, from rainforests to deserts.

A large potted fan palm and other exotic subtropical plants in the hot, humid conditions of the Temperate Palm House.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's glasshouses are home to 2,360 plants, though this represents only approximately 1% of all known species of flowering plants, cycads, and ferns.

Tall Nikau palms (Rhopalostyis sapida) and Kentia palms (Howea forsteriana) soar high into rafter of the Temperate Palm House.  The Nikau palm, also known as the 'feather duster palm' is a slow-growing native of the South Island of New Zealand and is the southernmost palm in the world.  The vulnerable Kentia palm occurs naturally only on Lord Howe Island, 400 miles off the coast of New South Wales, Australia, and grows slowly as an upper canopy forest species.    

Proceeding from the Temperate Palm House, visitors enter the Tropical Palm House.  Tall stands of common bamboo (bambusa vulgaris) feature in this glasshouse.  Bambusa vulgaris is one of the most commonly cultivated bamboos in the tropics and is thought to have originated in southern China, being used in construction and paper-making.    

Sun filters through the canopy of palms and bamboos in the Tropical Palm House.

The path continues into the Orchid & Cycad House. Here, epiphytic orchids (i.e. growing anchored to other plants) cascade down from the branches of a tree. Orchids are highly evolved flowering plants, the majority of which grow in the moist tropics.  The orchid family (Orchidaceae) is the largest family of flowering plants, accounting for 10% of all the world's flowering plants (about 22,500 species). Some orchids are terrestrial (saprophytic), but most are epiphytic, using the branches of trees to elevate themselves 30 metres or more off the ground in order to access sunlight. Peninsular Malaysia is home to 850 species of orchid, while Sabah and Sarawak are home to about 2,500 species. The Orchid & Cycad House also features large clumps of begonias. The 1,500 species of begonia are found across the tropics, where they make a major contribution to ground cover.

Cycads in the Orchid & Cycad House.  Cycads are primitive plants, which flourished with the dinosaurs of the Jurassic Period (208-144 million years ago).  Although they resemble palms, cycads are more closely related to conifers, with several species of cycad featuring large cones.  Cycads are dioecious, meaning they are either male or female.

A large pond dominates the Plants & People House, which displays several species that have become important crops for humans, including sugar cane, the coffee plant, and the para rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis).

A coffee tree (coffea arabica).  Coffea arabica accounts for over 80% of world coffee production, and is native to the highlands of Ethiopia.  The fruits of coffea arabica contain two seeds or 'beans', which have been chewed for centuries.  First cultivated in Yemen, the beans only acquire their distinctive aroma after they have been roasted.  

A vibrant wild ginger (Etlingera elatior), a species of herbaceous perennial commonly found in the rainforest, especially in Malaysia, which is home to about 300 species of Gingers or one-fifth of the world's total.  Plants in the Ginger family provide a range of food and medicinal products derived from leaves, flowers, and roots.      

Sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum).  The stem of the sugar cane contains a sweet sap that can be extracted by chewing and sucking the fibres.  When grown commercially, sugar cane stems are crushed by large rollers and the sugar extracted by boiling the syrup.  Molasses, a byproduct of the sugar-making process, is used to make rum and monosodium glutamate and, in Brazil, alcohol to fuel cars is made from fermenting sugar cane.    

Inside the Ferns & Fossils House, designed to evoke the feel of an ancient tree fern grove.  Fern forests have existed for hundreds of millions of years and can still be found in the temperate rainforests of Tasmania and New Zealand and on misty mountains in the tropics.

The graceful and delicate fronds of tree ferns tower over visitors.  Tree ferns date back to the Carboniferous Period, 350-290 million years ago).

Sunlight filters through the fronds of the tree ferns, an ancient species of plant life on Earth.

Tree ferns reproduce via spores formed on the underside of their fronds.

An elevated walkway runs along the side of the Temperate House.

A containerised Washington Navel (Citrus sinensis) a member of the Citrus aurantium (Sweet Orange Group) and native to China and South Vietnam.

Visitors wander through the lower level of the Temperate House.

Plants that grow in the Mediterranean climate found in southern Europe, California, South Africa, and Western Australia require special adaptations to survive the long, hot summers and intense sunshine. These adaptations include small or hairy leaves to minimise water loss through evaporation, oils that act as a cooling system, and waxy coatings or silvery scales that act as sunscreen, reflecting damaging ultra-violet radiation. Other plants simply drop their leaves during the hottest part of the year.

A bridge takes visitors over a small pond in the Rainforest Riches House.  

A clump of vibrant, variegated Calathea zebrina (zebra plant), an evergreen perennial growing up to 1 metre in height.  Requiring temperatures above 16 degrees centigrade, the zebra plant is a popular indoor houseplant in temperate areas. 

A striking red-and-white bromeliad in the Rainforest Riches House.

A boardwalk runs along the edge of the pond in the Rainforest Riches House, surrounded by tropical foliage.  

Sitting in the middle of the pond in the Rainforest Riches House is a small island covered in ferns, ground cover plants, and tall, graceful bird of paradise plants.

Visitors leaving the Rainforest Riches House enter the Arid Lands House, showcasing desert plants such as agave.

The Arid Lands House features plants specially adapted to dry conditions, such as those found in parts of Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, and Australia.

A wide selection of cacti.

These arid plants are perfectly at home in the dry, rocky soil of the Arid Lands House.

Palmettos and cacti growing among the rocks.

The exterior of the glasshouses after exiting the Arid Lands House.  A path leads to the adjacent Montane Tropics House.

The Montane Tropics House features plants from tropical mountains near the equator.  As temperatures drop 6 degrees centigrade for every 1,000 metres of altitude, an equatorial mountain 3,000 metres tall can be a cool 12 degrees centigrade; as such, plants growing at these altitudes have evolved to accommodate such conditions: trees are shorter, leaves are smaller, and woody climbers are more rare.  Epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants, are quite common in tropical montane regions, however.  Here, a vibrant red rhododendron greets visitors upon entering the Montane Tropics House; the Royal Botanic Garden has the world's largest collection of wild-sourced Vireya rhododendrons from mountains in Southeast Asian, including on Sabah at the northern end of the Malaysian island of Borneo.       

A display of carnivorous plants. There are around 17 genera of truly carnivorous plants, which often grow in acidic boglands, coastal swamps, or areas flooded by seasonal rains, where the soil is deficient in minerals. Because these plants cannot derive sufficient nutrition from the soil, they have adapted their leaves to trap insects and small animals. These adaptations include pitchers into which prey fall, active traps that close around prey, and sticky traps on which prey become immobilised.
Inside the Montane Tropics House.

The final glasshouse is the Lowland (Wet) Tropics House.  All the plants here are part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's research collection, including numerous species of the African violet (Gesneriaceae) and ginger (Zingiberaceae) families, on which scientists are conducting major research  programs. 

Vibrant orange-red flowers of Clivia 'Lady Holford' of the Amaryllidaceae family of herbaceous flowering plants. Clivia, also known as Natal lily or bush lily, are native to southern Africa, where they grow as forest undergrowth, adapted to low light conditions.

Blechnum brasiliense (Brazilian dwarf tree fern). The plant's rhizome forms a thin, stipe-stubbed trunk measuring up to 30 centimetres tall.  Fronds are initially a deep red colour, but turn to glossy green as they mature. The Brazilian dwarf tree fern is native to the warm and humid subtropical forests of South America and is cultivated as an ornamental plant.  As it cannot tolerate temperatures below 15 degrees centigrade, it must be kept in glasshouses year-round if grown outside subtropical regions.

Costus comosus var. bakeri, also known as 'spiral ginger', a native of the humid forests of Central America, from southern Mexico to Ecuador.  This perennial herbaceous plant is pollinated by hummingbirds and features a red inflorescence that produces bright yellow tubular flowers. Clumps of spiral ginger spread easily, with plants normally reaching six feet in height.

Various potted species being propagated by the horticulturalists of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in the Lowland (Wet) Tropics House. 

Bright orange flowers on a tropical shrub growing in the Lowland (Wet) Tropics House. 

Phalaenopsis (White Form), one of the species of orchid and also known as moth orchids.  Phalaenopsis have long, coarse roots, short leafy stems, and long-lasting flat flowers arranged on a flowering stem that often branches near the end.  They are native to India, China, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and Australia, with the majority found in Indonesia and the Philippines.  

Strongylodon macrobotrys, also known as jade vine or emerald vine, a perennial species of woody vine native to the tropical forests of the Philippines, where it grows beside streams or in ravines.  Closely related to the kidney bean and runner bean, the stems of Strongylodon macrobotrys can reach 18 metres in length.  The species has evolved modifications to allow it to be pollinated by a species of bat that hangs upside down from the flower clumps to drink the nectar.  The claw-shaped flowers form in trusses, each carrying 75+ flowers and measuring up to 3 metres long.  Short, oblong, fleshy seedpods measure up to 15 centimetres in length and contain up to 12 seeds.  

A final look at the original 1858 Temperate Palm House on the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

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