Alan Elliott

Currently Sibbald Fellow: Living Colection Researcher at the Botanic. PhD in the systematics of Clematis in Nepal, evolution of Ranunculaceae tribe Anemoneae & phylogeography amd the dynamics of speciation inthe Himalaya. Background in horticulture, generally interested in alpine plants and aspects of historical Scottish botany.

Feb 272017
 

Primula auricula, Peter Tothill, May 2015.
19810690.

I have to admit Raiklesses is not a common name I’d heard before. I was looking up the Dictionary of the Scots Language, like you do, and there it was.  Two references to its use in Scotland dating to the late 19thC citing  Clackmannanshire (Clc.) and Roxburghshire (Rxb.). Raikless, or reckless, is simply a corruption of auricula so not the most exciting reason for a common name.

Bear’s Ears, the translation of the old botanical latin name Auricula ursi, or garden auriculas as they are more commonly known come in all the colours of the rainbow, plus a few more on top of that. They are the result of 300+ years of selective plant breeding and are the horticultural equivalent of the fancy pigeon. With hundreds of named auricula cultivars it maybe better to describe the growers and breeders as reckless rather than the poor plant.

The Botanics has a long history of raikless cultivation, James Sutherland’s Hortus medicus Edinburgensis, or a catalogue of the plants in the Physical Garden at Edinburgh dating from 1683 lists on page 306.

Sanicula Alpina vel Auricula ursi variorum colorum, Bears-ears of divers[e] colours.

The publication predates Species Plantarum and the beginning of the binomial plant names so the names in Sutherland’s time were polynomial and a mouthful.

As I said we don’t grow many garden auriculas but we do grow the wild species Primula auricula L. and Primula hirsuta All. that are the original parents of the hybrids and led to the horticultural diversity found in all those raikless hybrids.

RBGE Living Collections Accession Factsheet
Accession Number:19810690
Scientific Name:Primula auricula L.
Family:Primulaceae
Genus:Primula
Epithet:auricula
Plant:19810690A
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
Plant:19810690E
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
Plant:19810690D
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
Plant:19810690C
Location:/Living Collections/Inverleith/Q25
Plant:19810690B
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
1981.1069O (2).JPG
 Location: 55.964083097,-3.204597568

 

RBGE Living Collections Accession Factsheet
Accession Number:19741424
Scientific Name:Primula hirsuta All.
Family:Primulaceae
Genus:Primula
Epithet:hirsuta
Collector:Evans, Alfred
Origin:Valais:Saas Fee
Plant:19741424E
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
Plant:19741424D
Location:/Living Collections/Inverleith/Q03/18/D010
Plant:19741424C
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
Plant:19741424A
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
Plant:19741424B
Location:/Living Collections/Unplaced
SAM_2377.JPG
SAM_2379.JPG
SAM_2380.JPG
SAM_2381.JPG
SAM_2382.JPG
Dec 162016
 

Boswellia sacra (frankincense) in Oman

Frankincense and myrrh have an almost mystical place in our psyche at this time of year and both can be best be descibed, if unflatteringly, as non-timber forest products.

While frankincense and myrrh are strongly associated with the story of Jesus both have long been revered from Ancient Greece and Egypt, used in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths and were traded eastward in antiquity with India and China for incense and medicinal purposes.

Frankincense is the white resin extracted from species of the genus Boswellia, which grow in arid, cool areas of the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and India. The resin from Boswellia sacra from Somalia, Oman and Yemen, is considered to be the finest and most aromatic. The resin is also known as olibanum, from the Arabic al-lubān.

Myrrh is a reddish resin that is harvested from species of the genus Commiphora, native to northeast Africa and the adjacent areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Commiphora myrrha, a tree commonly used in the production of myrrh, is found in the shallow, rocky soils of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia in Africa and in Oman and Saudi Arabia on the Peninsula. However the myrrh of the Bible is believed to be a related, but different species Commiphora guidottii.

Commiphora myrrha (myrrh) in Yemen

The resins are extracted from both Boswellia and Commiphora trees by making longitudinal cuts in the trunks. The sap slowly exudes from those cut and drips down the tree, forming tear-shaped droplets that are left to harden on the side of the trees before harvesting several weeks later. Mature trees of both Boswellia and Commiphora can yield up to 3kg of resin per year and with frankincense selling for about £40 per kilo and myrrh for about £80 per kg, it makes them valuable regional crops.

 

While the harvesting is not destructive is does appear to be detrimental in the long term; with a reduction in viable seed production and therefore a reduction in number of young plants to replace the old, see: Limitations to sustainable frankincense production: blocked regeneration, high adult mortality and declining populations. Also the increase in havesting has led to increased pressures on the wider natural envrionment, Rare Arabian leopards forced out by frankincense harvesters.

In Febuary 2017 the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants will be attending an IUCN red-listing workshop in Sharjah where regionally important trees will be assessed or updated.

On that note…..tis the season.

Nov 282016
 

edinburgh-logo

The two day symposium on the 13th & 14th of May 2017 at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is organised by the Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East (ASTENE) in conjunction with the Centre for Middle Easten Plants (CMEP). Contributions are welcome from a wide range of disciplines and interests. It is envisaged that the Seminar will cover many fascinating subjects on (though not restricted to) the following main themes:

– Travellers’ accounts related to the botanical legacy of any part of the former Ottoman Empire (e.g. present-day Turkey, the Levant, Egypt, the Balkans, Arabian Peninsula etc.)
– The flora of the region, including their heritage, preservation and medicinal uses
– Bulbs of the region, especially tulips, and their cultural significance; Tulipomania
– Ottoman garden design and architecture
– Floral and related motifs in Ottoman art, including textiles, ceramics etc.
– Culinary aspects of the botanical legacy of the region
– Literary, pictorial and photographic depictions of any aspect of the botanical and horticultural legacy of the region
– Orientalism as applicable to any of the seminar’s main themes.

Please email your offers of papers to ottomanlandsastene@gmail.com together with a working title, a brief abstract of not more than 250 words, and the names of authors and their affiliations. We also welcome the offer of pre-organised panels of up to four speakers on specific themes. Participants will be informed about the acceptance of their paper by 15 February 2017. Seminar Bursaries are also offered: please contact treasurerastene@gmail.com for information.

Download the Poster here

The Seminar Booking Form and the Draft Seminar Programme will be available on Eventbrite in early January 2017 with the deadline for bookings being 15 April 2017. Tickets will also be available at the event. In the meantime, any enquiries should be addressed to ottomanlandsastene@gmail.com

tiol

Jul 292016
 
Will Hinchliffe climbing 19241022*A for fertile material

Will Hinchliffe climbing 19241022*A for fertile material

One aspect of the Sibbald funded verification project I’m involved with at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is the identification of plants that are currently growing in the garden without a species name.

One of these plants was a 1924 collection of Quercus collected by G.H. Cave in Sikkim, who was the director of the Llyod Botanic Garden in Darjeeling. After 92 years, as my colleague Robert Unwin said when he pointed out the tree, “its about time it got a name.”

At the first inspection of the tree, on Monday, there were no obvious flowers or fruits and what was most striking was that the leaves were not lobed or serrated as Oaks so often are.

A quick look at the Flora of Bhutan account for Quercus and related genera found in Sikkim keyed out to the genus Lithocarpus because of the entire margin to the leaf, but flower and fruit would be needed to successfully get a species ID for tree. After going back on Tuesday morning with a pair of binoculars to scan the crown, a request was put to our arboriculture team to climb the tree so they could collect the male inflorescence and any fruit that were up there.

On Friday morning, Will Hinchliffe one of our tree climbers shimmied up the tree and collected some male flowers spikes and immature acorns. A trip to the herbarium with the flowering and immature fruiting material quickly resulted in an identification of Lithocarpus elegans.

Immature acorns of Lithocarpus elegans

Immature acorns of Lithocarpus elegans

A male inflorescence of Lithocarpus elegans

A male inflorescence of Lithocarpus elegans

To round off the process and to see if we could add anything to the scant accession record we looked in the 1924 accession book held in the archive. In January of 1924 Cave send RBGE seed of 4 species Quercus, three failed to germinate and the only one that did was Quercus spicatus. Which turns out to be an old name and illigitimate name for Lithocarpus elegans.

It turns out to be a rare tree in cultivation, the BGCI search only yielded 4 other botanic garden collections in the world that list it as growing. What is even more astonishing is that Lithocarpus elegans is found at relatively low altitudes (maximum of about 2000m) in warm temperate and sub-tropical forests of the Himalaya, and by no stretch of the imagination can Edinburgh’s climate be described as either. The secret to its persistence and the reason that it probably went without a name for so long is that its growing in a sheltered unassuming spot in the back of the woodland garden.

Quercus species listing in Cave's 1924 seed lists with annotations about what germinated.

Quercus species listing in Cave’s 1924 seed list with annotations about what germinated.

The whole process nearly used the full spectrum of the Botanics’ institutional knowledge and expertise: the arboricultural abilities in the Horticulture division safely collected the plant material for identification, plant records and the archive highlighted the history and provenance of the plant and then the library and herbarium collections helped identify and ultimately give the tree a name.

It has also resulted in the odd situation where despite the tree being grown for the past 92 years we have just added a “new” preciously uncultivated species to the living collection.

The botanical wheels turn slowly, but it really is worth it

Jul 282016
 

During August of 1907, in western part of Hubei province in China, Ernest Henry Wilson collected a Hydrangea that turned out to be new to science. The plant was collected during his third expedtion, but the first sponsored by Charles S. Sargent the director of the Arnold Arboretum. The expedtion lasted for three years, beginning in 1907 with Wilson exploring western Hubei and Sichuan before returning to Boston in 1909.

Wilson’s collection  number 772  was described as the new species, Hydrangea sargentiana, in Plantae Wilsonae, a three part series to enummerate and describe his collectionmade during this expedition.

As well as the preserved specimen there was an associated seed collection that was distributed by Arnold Arboretum. Some of those seed were sent to Sir John Stirling Maxwell who then, in turn, forwarded some on to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Despite coming from a remote part of China, via the Arnold Arboetum in Boston, then through FRS Balfour at Dawyck who was dealing with UK distribution of the Arnold seed, to Stirling-Maxwell before RBGE recieved the seed on the 5th June 1908, only 10months after they were collected.

One of the plants grown from that seed collection is still alive and well in the living collection 108 year later and has been used as cutting material so we now have several plants in the Edinburgh and Benmore gardens.

Hydrangea sargentiana is not your average garden lacecap in fact as heather-reenges go, that’s the great scots word for them my gran used, it really is something special.

Hydrangea sargentiana 19081032*A

Hydrangea sargentiana 19081032*A

Hydrangea sargentiana inflorescence

Hydrangea sargentiana bracts

Jul 052016
 
Ian Hedge's Photographic Collection. Afghanistan - 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Ian Hedge’s Photographic Collection. Afghanistan – 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Botanical names have a tendency to be utilitarian, geographical or commemorative, but very rarely are they whimsical.

In 1964 however, Per Wendelbo described a new species of Scrophularia, from Afghanistan and called it S. landroveri. He and Ian Hedge from RBGE had collected the specimen from the Shibar Pass  northwest of Kabul during their 1962 collection trip.

The name Scrophularia landroveri was used to honour their rusty Landrover Series II that had suffered in the pursuit botany during their Afghan collection trip. Four-wheeled drive vehicles such as the Landrover had made collecting in the vast and often more or less roadless areas of the Iranian highlands much easier, helped promote knowledge of the flora of the region and therefore became worthy of commemoration.

http://data.rbge.org.uk/herb/E00327336

http://data.rbge.org.uk/herb/E00327336

Ian Hedge's Photographic Collection. Afghanistan - 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Ian Hedge’s Photographic Collection. Afghanistan – 1962-69. RBGE Archive

The species was describes as inconspicuous  due to the greyish green
colour of all its parts a colour it shared with the Landrover.

 

In the absence of an attractive field picture of the plant in-situ how about some more Landover pictures….braw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ian Hedge's Photographic Collection. Afghanistan - 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Ian Hedge’s Photographic Collection. Afghanistan – 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Ian Hedge's Photographic Collection. Afghanistan - 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Ian Hedge’s Photographic Collection. Afghanistan – 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Ian Hedge's Photographic Collection. Afghanistan - 1962-69. RBGE Archive

Ian Hedge’s Photographic Collection. Afghanistan – 1962-69. RBGE Archive

 

Jun 272016
 

Currently flowering in the Arid Lands house at the Botanics is the Kenyan endemic Aloe springatei-neumannii.

This species was described in 2011 from south-western Kenya by Leonard Newton of Kenyatta University in Nairobi. First collected in 1991 by Michael Neumann, it wasn’t until 1999 that a second collection made by Lawrie Springate convinced Professor Newton that this was a new species. The unusual double-barrelled epithet of the species recognises both collectors but is particularly poignant as Lawrie, a close colleague and former researcher on the Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and Socotra at the Botanics, died suddenly in June of 2011 not knowing he had been honoured in this way. Lawrie was especially interested in succulent plants and this was a fitting tribute to his work.
Aloe springatei-neumannii habit

Aloe springatei-neumannii habit

Aloe springatei-neumannii inflorescence

Aloe springatei-neumannii inflorescence

Aloe springatei-neumannii flower

Aloe springatei-neumannii flower

May 302016
 
Trillium grandiflorum 'Flore Pleno' 19594173*A

Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is home to several Plant Heritage National Plant Collections including Trillium species and natural hybrids. Trillium are found in the woodland garden at the Botanics and unlike our other National Plant Collections, which are also research collections, are fully on public display. The best time to see them is March through to May.

Historically Trillium has been placed in the Lily family, in its own family Trilliaceae and is currently in the Melanthiaceae a decision based on molecular relationships. Even though Trillium has caused some confusion in its family relationships they are relatively easy to identify to genus level with leaves, sepals & petals all in threes. There are two major divisions within the genus to divide the species, sessile and pedicilate plants. Sessile species are those where the flower emerges from the top of the stem at the same point as the leaves and pedicelate species that have a flower stalk so the flower sits clear of the leaves. Beyond that identification becomes more tricky unless you know where in the world the particular plant comes from.

 

20011576*A

Trillium luteum

The Botanics currently cultivate 69 accessions for Trillium, over 40% of which is of known wild origin. We have 29 species, varieties and hybrids as well as a few cultivated forms.  Most of our wild plants are from the US (mostly from North Carolina and Georgia), with a few from Canada and two natural hybrids from Japan.

 

In 1817 Steven Elliott, an American botanist wrote in his A sketch of the botany of South Carolina and Georgia:

The genus is an interesting one. Under great simplicity and conformity of habit, 3 leaves at the summit of a stem, supporting one single solitary flower, it contains and conceals many species.

This is just some of the diversity at the Botanics…

 

Trillium × hagae

Trillium × hagae

Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium erectum

Trillium erectum

Trillium pusillum var pusillum

Trillium pusillum var pusillum

Trillium vaseyi

Trillium vaseyi

Trillium grandiflorum 'Jenny Rhodes'

Trillium grandiflorum ‘Jenny Rhodes’

Trillium grandiflorum 'Flore Pleno'

Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’

Trillium rivale

Trillium rivale

 

Apr 142016
 
20040957C First Darwin Nepal Fieldwork Training Expedition Collection number: 7

20040957C
First Darwin Nepal Fieldwork Training Expedition Collection number: 7

This Primula has been in cultivation since 1836 when it was first introduced into cultivation by Dr. John Forbes Royle from the NW Himalaya. It is a common sight in UK gardens at this time of year being a robust plant despite its Himalayan origins.

 

Although it came to the attentions of gardeners in the 1830s Primula denticulata was originally described and illustrated 30 years earlier in 1806 by material sent from Nepal by Dr Francis Buchanan Hamilton.

The Botanics have a two accessions of Primula denticulata from Nepal growing in the collection. One from 2004 was collected on the first joint RBGE/Nepalese government fieldwork at the beginning of the Flora of Nepal project and the other is an older accession that dates from the Stainton Sykes and Williams expedition in 1954, just after Nepal opened up as a country to foreigners.

20040957C First Darwin Nepal Fieldwork Training Expedition Collection number: 7

20040957C
First Darwin Nepal Fieldwork Training Expedition Collection number: 7

This species is probably best known to most people as the drumstick Primula, but growing up in Angus I knew it as a Kirrie Dumpling. This locally known name is derives from the town of Kirriemuir which is best known for its link to J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, and to an extent for Bon Scott who was lead vocals for AC/DC from 1974 to 1980, but I digress.

 

Most importantly Kirrie was also where Major George Sherriff retired after his military and plant hunting careers. His garden, Ascrieve, is where he and his wife created a Sino-Himalayan homage to the landscapes and plants they saw and collected in the Himalaya and Tibet. Major Sherriff was generous with his plant collection giving plants away to visitors, friends and neighbours, with Primula denticulata presumably among them.

Vive la Kirrie Dumplings.

Apr 072016
 

Saxifraga x bhratangensis is a naturally occuring hybrid that is found in central Nepal. Despite only being described in 2013 it has been in cultivation here at Royal Botanic Garden Edinbugh since 1983.

The collections was made by our retired Alpine supervisor, Ron McBeath, who collected it in the Marsyangdi valley near the village of Brathang on the 14th of July 1982. Distrubingly perhaps for some before I was born.

The collection MCB 1377 has caused some confusion in Saxifraga community from the variation found in the seedlings that arose from that original batch and then persisted in cultivation over the past 30+ years.

Malcolm McGregor’s 2009 monograph on the 2000 species and cultivars of Saxifraga discussed the parentatge of MCB1377, believing to be a cross between the species Saxifraga poluniniana and Saxifraga cinerea, and then in 2013 after additional work in the field the hybrid name S. x bhratangensis was published in The Saxifraga Magazine.

The original plant is in the process of being propagated to give it a new lease of life and to return it to a stone trough as part of the renovation works on the old alpine house.

 

Saxifraga x bhratangensis 19832344*D

Saxifraga x bhratangensis
19832344*D

Saxifraga x bhratangensis 19832344*D.

Saxifraga x bhratangensis
19832344*D.