Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh showcases botanical art from Nepal

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is highlighting its 200-year-long scientific friendship with relationship with horticulturists in Nepal with a special exhibition.

 Hedychium flavescens by Nepalese artist Neera Joshi Pradhan.  Image: RBGE
Hedychium flavescens by Nepalese artist Neera Joshi Pradhan. Image: RBGE

The Flora of Nepal exhibition will be held in the garden’s John Hope Gateway and features art by Claire Banks, Lyn Campbell, Isik Guner, Sarah Roberts, Sharon Tingey and Neera Joshi Pradhan, led by Jacqui Pestell, course director of Botanical Illustration at RBGE.

Links between horticulturists in Edinburgh and Nepal go back to 1802 when Scottish surgeon-naturalist Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton made the first natural history collections in Nepal.

Known as the ‘Father’ of Nepalese botany, his research established a collaboration continuing to this day with the Flora of Nepal programme.

Buchanan-Hamilton spent a year in Nepal, collecting and documenting over 1100 plant species. Over 100 of these were captured in coloured drawings by his Bengali artist.

Today the Flora of Nepal programme is run by RGBE botanist Dr Mark Watson and is in the process of producing the first comprehensive account of the country’s plants. The project involves partners in Nepal and Japan and more than 100 botanical experts worldwide.

Together the team is exploring regions little visited by botanists, describing and illustrating plants new to science and documenting those already understood. This knowledge is used to conserve Nepal’s biodiversity.

During March 2015 a group of seven botanical artists with RBGE connections visited Nepal to study its flora and teach botanical painting workshops in a local school. Through drawing and reference photographs made on excursions, the artists gathered source material to complete the detailed botanical works now on display, highlighting just a few examples of Nepal’s remarkable biodiversity and how plants are used today.

Watson said: "Buchanan-Hamilton understood the importance of the collections he was making and knew that 800 of these species were new to science.

"The lasting legacy of his notes, drawings and dried herbarium specimens continue to be of great relevance today as they help resolve the identities of the many hundreds of species that were described from his collections.

"RBGE is proud of its deep connections with Nepal and it is appropriate that we should be celebrating this as part of the wider Britain Nepal Bicentenary. Plants are fundamental to everyday life and this research is vital in enabling Nepalese people to adapt to the very real challenges they face from invasive plants and a changing climate."

About 7,000 species of vascular plants grow in Nepal, more than four times more than in Britain. More than three quarters of Nepal’s people live in rural areas, from the lowland tropical jungles of the Tarai, to the high alpine settlements in the Everest region. Plants are vital to their daily lives.

Two thousand species are used medicinally and more than 600 eaten as food. Other uses include firewood, livestock fodder, fibres, oils, spices, tools and building materials. Many plants are also important in traditional cultural practices.

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