Robyn Drinkwater

Mar 162017

Frieda Christie

Frieda is responsible for the care and maintenance of the scanning electron microscope and oversees the use of it and the research grade light microscopes at RBGE.  She has worked with researchers from all over the world, who use microscopy to look in detail at the plant collections at RBGE.


#teamrbge          #BeBoldForChange

Mar 142017

Kanae Nishii

Kanae is working on aspects of molecular phylogeny and evolutionary development of the family Gesneriaceae. The family shows highly diverse shoot and flower morphologies and teaches us interesting facts about evolution. Her most interesting work involves isolating novel genetic factors underlying shoot diversity in the Gesneriaceae.


#teamrbge        #BeBoldForChange

Mar 122017

http://Hayley is 20 years old and has Asperger syndrome. She volunteers in the Glasshouse at RBGE with the group Supporting Positive Paths. It has made a huge difference to Hayley and her family that she has found somewhere she can feel safe and comfortable.  She sets about recording and drawing individual plants and her notebooks have been donated to the RBGE Archive Collection. Her family are very proud of her achievement.  Her artwork has had a lot of positive feedback which makes her feel welcome and valued.


#teamrbge          #BeBoldForChange

Mar 122017
Flavia Pezzini

Flavia Pezzini

Flávia is studying the relationship between species of the genus Ceiba in the Neotropics. Ceiba is one of the most conspicuous elements of the highly threatened Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest, and her research also aims to spotlight this often neglected ecosystem.


#teamrbge          #BeBoldForChange

Mar 102017
Elspeth Mackintosh

Elspeth Mackintosh

Elspeth Mackintosh is Senior Horticulturist in the Alpine Department. She is responsible for the running of the area which includes the public display area, an extensive back-up collection and propagation facilities for Rock and Alpine.  Spring finds her taking bulb displays to alpine shows around the country and she also hunts for plants in far-flung places such as Bhutan, Nepal and South Africa.


#teamrbge          #BeBoldForChange

Mar 082017

Catherine Kidner

Catherine is a geneticist studying tropical diversity. She uses next generation sequencing to discover the differences between species and the drivers of evolution in trees and herbs. She is developing ways of using herbarium specimens to examine evolutionary changes over the past 200 years and ‘rescue’ the genomes of extinct species.


#teamrbge          #BeBoldForChange

Mar 082017

To recognise and celebrate International Women’s Day 2017, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is showcasing the work of a small selection of our female colleagues and volunteers – both past and present – along with pioneering women that are represented in our collections.

The exhibition represents the work of women across RBGE and each story highlights the contribution that the women have made to their chosen field. The theme of International Women’s Day 2017 is “Be Bold For Change”. Whether it is as leaders in their field or by visiting far-flung parts of the world to discover new species, there can be no doubt that the RBGE women achieve this.

The natural world is increasingly under threat and we need people to pursue careers in botany, horticulture and conservation. We hope that these images will inspire young women by demonstrating that there is a place for them in the science and horticulture sectors.

The exhibition is in the Library Foyer from 8th-30th March (10am-3.30pm). There is directional signage in the Garden.

#teamrbge          #BeBoldForChange

athena swan bronze logo



International Women's Day panel


All International Women’s Day 2017 Stories

Feb 122017
Charles Darwin, aged 51
Charles Darwin, aged 51

Charles Darwin, aged 51

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809 (208 years ago this week), and died on 19 April 1882. Although he studied for a short time in Edinburgh, it was through his close friend and botany professor in Cambridge John Stevens Henslow that he was invited to join Captain Robert FitzRoy as naturalist on HMS Beagle for a round-the-world voyage which began on 27 December 1831 and lasted almost five years until 1836. On the voyage Darwin spent as much time as possible on land investigating geology and making natural history collections including dried plant specimens, while the Beagle surveyed and charted coasts. As is well-known, the voyage took Darwin first to the east coast of South America, round Cape Horn and north to the Galapagos Islands, then to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and home.

Darwin’s Beagle Plants

In studies of the ‘top set’ of Darwin’s plant specimens in the Cambridge University herbarium, Duncan Porter has catalogued the 248 vascular plants which include 16 species of ferns, 35 of monocotyledons and 166 of dicotyledons. These specimens had been entrusted to Henslow to deal with, but the latter’s lack of time and expertise caused him to turn to William Hooker in Glasgow for help. Henslow numbered all the specimens before sending as complete a set as possible to Glasgow, where Hooker in turn enlisted the help of George Walker Arnott. Together they published many vascular plants new to science in the following years. Amongst these were some important novelties such as Berberis darwinii collected by Darwin on Chiloe Island in Chile in 1834 and now a familiar garden plant in Britain.

Darwin’s Bryophytes

Darwin apparently collected relatively few bryophytes, and very little has been published on them. A short list of eight from the Galapagos Islands was published by Hooker’s son Joseph in 1847 following study by the English bryologist William Wilson and these specimens are now in Hooker’s bryophyte herbarium in the Natural History Museum in London. Few of those from other parts of South America have been documented except for Dendroligotrichum dendroides (collected as Polytrichum dendroides) from Tierra del Fuego illustrated and described by William Hooker in his Icones Plantarum in 1836. Duplicates of this specimen, and two other Darwin bryophytes, were found in Arnott’s herbarium in Edinburgh several years ago.

Newly-found Darwin mosses in Edinburgh

In an important new discovery, made in the course of searching for specimens collected by Alexander von Humboldt in Arnott’s herbarium, two unexpected new discoveries have been made of Darwin bryophytes, bearing Henslow’s numbers 436 and 464.

436. Polytrichum magellanicum Hedw., now Polytrichadelphus magellanicus (Hedw.) Mitt., labelled ‘Straits of Terra del Fuego, Darwin per Henslow No. 436’. (E00826655, herb. Arnott). This specimen was collected by Darwin probably in January or February 1833. However, it had been first described by Johannes Hedwig in his Species Muscorum in 1801, based on a collection from the Straits of Magellan made by the French explorer Philibert Commerson in 1767. Remarkably, a duplicate of Commerson’s original specimen is also present in Arnott’s herbarium in E.

Polytrichadelphus magellanicus

Polytrichadelphus magellanicus

Polytrichadelphus magellanicus, Tierra del Fuego(Photo David Long)

Polytrichadelphus magellanicus, Tierra del Fuego(Photo David Long)










464. Hypnum arbuscula Brid., now Dendrohypopterygium arbuscula (Brid.) Kruijer, labelled ‘Chonos archipelago, Darwin per Revd. J.S. Henslow, No. 464.’ (E00826690, herb. Arnott). This specimen was collected by Darwin when he visited the Chonos Archipelago in Chile in December 1834. As with Darwin’s Polytrichum, this species was also first discovered by Commerson on the Straits of Magellan in 1767, and a duplicate of his specimen is also present in Arnott’s herbarium in E.

Dendrohypopterygium arbuscula is something of a controversial moss as it has recently been moved to a brand new genus Arbusculohypopterygium distinguished primarily on DNA sequences, perhaps the first example of such a genus. It remains to be seen if this will become generally accepted.

Dendrohypopterygium arbuscula

Dendrohypopterygium arbuscula

Hypopterygium arbuscula in Chile (photo Oliver Whaley)

Dendrohypopterygium arbuscula in Chile (photo Oliver Whaley)










How did some of Darwin’s mosses get to Edinburgh?

At the time of the Beagle voyage in the early 1830’s Scotland was one of the world’s leading centres of cryptogamic botany. This was brought about by the appointment of William Jackson Hooker (later Sir William Hooker, Director of Kew) to the Chair of Botany in Glasgow University in 1820 where for 21 years he led the study of mosses, liverworts, ferns and algae, along with his Scottish colleagues Robert Kaye Greville in Edinburgh and George Walker Arnott based in Edinburgh, Fife and Paris. They published extensively and formed a formidable cryptogamic team. All three acquired large herbaria, both from their own field work in Britain and France, and more importantly through gifts and exchange of specimens with botanists and plant collectors worldwide. When Hooker left Glasgow in 1840 he took his very large herbarium with him to Kew, but Greville’s herbarium remained in Edinburgh, and Arnott’s in Glasgow. Fortunately, Hooker was extremely generous with his specimens and gave many duplicates to his friends Arnott and Greville. At later dates Arnott’s herbarium (except for his British collections which went to the Kelvingrove Museum) came to the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Through their efforts, and also through the very important acquisition of the herbarium of the Scottish botanist/ explorer Archibald Menzies, Edinburgh now has one of the world’s best historic cryptogamic collections from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Arnott in particular seems to have been especially well-connected with other botanists through his work in Paris where he obtained large numbers of specimens from leading contemporary continental botanists and explorers such as Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent, Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart, Jules Paul Benjamin Delessert, Alexander von Humboldt, Adrien-Henri de Jussieu and Carl Sigismund Kunth. It was through Hooker and Arnott’s contact with Henslow in Cambridge that a set of Darwin’s Beagle plants came to Glasgow and later some of these moved to Edinburgh. The Edinburgh collections are still being catalogued, and though much fewer in number than the approximately 250 collections housed in Cambridge, nevertheless duplicates of around one third of the Beagle vascular plants are present in Edinburgh. The two new ‘finds’ of mosses show that this cataloguing may not be complete and more Darwin specimens may yet come to light at RBGE.

David Long

Feb 012017

On 1st February 2017 an exhibition opens in the Library Foyer at RBGE displaying work which was produced through association between RBGE and Edinburgh College of Art and inspired by our research collections.  This exhibition will run until the first week of March. 


In October 2016, the Edinburgh College of Art 2nd year Illustration course, were assigned a 5 week project based on the Herbarium, Library, Archives and Living Collections here at Edinburgh.  This collaboration is part of a concerted effort by RBGE in seeking new audiences for our collections, in addition to the traditional taxonomic researchers and was valuable for strengthening the relationship between organisations.


As we curate such a potentially overwhelming amount of material to choose from, we decided on a geographical focus, based on some of the scientific projects that are currently active at RBGE.   The students were divided into groups and allocated one of the countries highlighted on the map.

Each student group was given a tour of our research collections and a session with one of our taxonomists who specialises in the flora of their designated country.  These experts gave the students an overview of their current research, including anecdotes from their fieldwork emphasising the need for habitat conservation and showed them herbarium specimens and living material to be inspired by.


The work displayed was chosen from all the material submitted by the students.  We have included the sketchbooks to illustrate the research that is such a significant part of the artistic process and to give the viewer an insight into how each student created the final artwork.  The herbarium specimen and living collection images seek to put the work into the context of the RBGE collections.

You can view a small selection in our archive cabinet in The John Hope Gateway at the West Gate of the Botanics and the main exhibition is in the Library Foyer of the Balfour Building (10am-4pm).  There is directional signage in the Garden.

Directions map

@rbge_herbarium                                                                  #rbge_eca

Oct 182016
Harry Powell

The RBGE Herbarium is frequently gifted plant specimens from individual collectors. In recent years we have received material from

  • T. Powell (seaweeds)
  • F. Dobremez (flora of Nepal)
  • C. Townsend (mosses)
  • C.R. Fraser-Jenkins (ferns)

Often the culmination of a lifetime’s collecting and botanical expertise, these gifts are of enormous importance to the Herbarium.

However, some specimens require a considerable amount of preparatory work before they can be incorporated into the collection. Following an initial condition assessment, tasks may include:

  • Cataloguing ancillary material eg photos, drawings, collecting books
  • Sending duplicate specimens to other Herbaria
  • Producing or photocopying labels
  • Databasing & imaging
  • Mounting or remounting
  • Laying away [filing specimens in herbarium cabinets]

This preparation is vital if the specimens are to be maintained in the best possible condition and made fully accessible to future researchers. It may take weeks, months or years.

Volunteers play a vital and much appreciated role in assisting Herbarium staff with this work. Some are featured here, but to all we would like to say a huge Thank You!


The gifted herbaria and the volunteers who work on them:

Harry Powell

Harry Powell

Collector: Harry T. Powell (1925-2016)

Background: Henry Powell (known as Harry) had a lifelong career with the Scottish Marine Biological Association (SMBA), later the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).  He carried out seaweed surveys all around the Scottish coast, publishing several significant papers, and conducted important studies on Fucus species (wracks). He was an active member of his workplace union branch and a chairman of Connel Community Council.

Collection: Over 500 hundred dried pressed seaweed specimens, and papers, photographs, films and collecting equipment. He also rescued a variety of items when the SMBA relocated from Millport to Oban in 1967. These included 19th century pressed specimens and nature prints.


Clare Scanlan

Clare Scanlan

Volunteer:  Clare Scanlan

Background: Recently retired from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) – Senior Marine Specialist (marine plants). Long-term interest in seaweeds.

Project: Sorting and cataloguing the collection bequeathed by the late Harry T. Powell.

Likes: Working with seaweeds, and on a collection that is both interesting and useful.



Professor Jean Francois Dobremez

Professor Jean Francois Dobremez

Collector: Jean Francois Dobremez (1941-2009)

Background: A professor at the University of Grenoble, Dobremez was the ecologist who mapped Nepal. His vegetation types are still used in official documents in Nepal.

Collection: Over 9000 herbarium sheets, mainly specimens collected by Dobremez and his colleagues in the 1960s and 70s, but supplemented by other botanists collecting in Nepal around the same time. They are a valuable resource for RBGEs Flora of Nepal research.

Jean Keeling

Jean Keeling

Volunteer:  Jean Keeling

Background: Consultant pathologist, former allotment holder, always into walking and cooking.

Project:  Preparing pressed specimens from the Dobremez collection for remounting by herbarium technicians.

Likes: Stepping into the Herbarium, a haven of tranquillity. Meeting people from a variety of backgrounds, both staff and other volunteers is a bonus.

Dislikes: Visitors who don’t replace the microscope covers and haven’t discovered how to turn off their mobiles!




Clifford Charles Townsend

Collector: Clifford Charles Townsend (b.1926)

Background: Townsend was a member of staff at Kew Botanical Gardens, where his main area of research was the production of the Flora of Iraq. Collecting bryophytes [mosses] was just a very prolific hobby.

Collection: He gifted around 11 000 specimens to RBGE in 2001 and a further 14 000 in 2012! The gift of 2012 had to be collected at very short notice, as he gave an ultimatum that the Natural History Museum, London, could have them unless we collected them within a week or so!




Margaret Johnson

Margaret Johnson

Volunteer:  Margaret Johnson

Background: Worked in drawing offices producing geographical/architectural plans, and records of utilities. Has always been interested in plants, gardens and plant collectors, and loves travelling.

Project:  Preparing C. C. Townsend specimens for mounting (mosses are stored in paper packets glued on to herbarium sheets). Checking for duplicates to send to other Herbaria.

Likes: The staff, Friends and volunteers are very friendly which makes an enjoyable atmosphere in which to be able to help out in the Garden.


Christopher Fraser Jenkins

Christopher Fraser Jenkins

Collector: Christopher R. Fraser-Jenkins (b.1948)

Background: He began collecting in April 1957 at the age of 9, and went on to make thousands of wild fern collections from Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Southern Asia, North (incl. USA, Hawaii and Mexico) and Central America, Jamaica, Réunion and Africa.

Collection: His collection came to us from the Welsh National Herbarium in 2011, and includes over 32 300 accessions as well as correspondence, field books and hard drives of photographs. Further collections are held at the Natural History Museum, London.



Sheila Rennie

Sheila Rennie

Volunteer:  Sheila Rennie

Background: Administrative/managerial position with Scottish Certification Authority (SQA). Interests include cinema, books, tennis, golf, skiing and travel.

Project:  Preparing archival quality labels for specimen collections. Previously worked on transcribing information from C. R. Fraser-Jenkins collection books into the RBGE Herbarium database.

Likes: The stress-free working environment and interacting with other volunteers – tea breaks and lunchtimes are pleasant social occasions.


Bridget Laue

Bridget Laue

Volunteer:  Bridget Laue

Background: An active member of the British Pteridological Society (BPS), I have a very strong fondness for ferns.  So when the RBGE needed someone to help with ferns in the herbarium, it seemed an ideal project to pursue in my retirement.

Project: Processing the unmounted specimens, preparing them for mounting, and then barcoding and laying away the mounted specimens.

Likes: The fern specimens are lovely and I have learned so much from dealing with them.  But besides this, I have really enjoyed getting to know other members of the herbarium team, as well as visiting researchers.  Everyone has their own peculiar area of interest and expertise.  I also like the flexibility; I can work away on my own at the times that work well for me.  My supervisor, Sally King, is great about giving me clear instructions and having material ready for me.

Dislikes: Okay, really the only downside of working in the herbarium is finding myself working indoors on the occasional dry, sunny, Scottish day.