skip to main content

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE)


Collections & Expertise

RBGE is one of the major research institutes in the UK focusing on the Systematics and Conservation of plants. Its collections are of world importance, holding the second largest collection of living plant species in Europe, a herbarium of 3 million specimens, and one of the best botanical libraries in the UK. Combined with its modern laboratory facilities and the expertise of its 200 staff, RBGE is playing a key role in the exploration, understanding and conservation of plants around the world.

Department Collection highlights and staff expertise
Herbarium 3 Million herbarium sheets50,000 type specimens230,000 digital imagesImportant collection of Plants from Turkey, Arabia, South East Asia and China
Living collection 66,500 plants of over 15,500 species
Library Second largest collection of living plant species in Europe (68,000 plants, 17,500 species/taxa)Plants from 152 countriesAll living collections databased and mapped World important research collections of Rhododendrons, Gesneriaceae, Begoniaceae, Zingiberaceae
Molecular facilities  Silica gel material of 226 families and 1476 genera6300 DNA sample
Library & archives 70,000 books (including 3,000 rare books)Literature from the 15th Century to present day150,000 bound journals covering 4,200 separate titles40,000 colour and black and white printed illustrations60,000 colour slides

Supporting Facilities and Services

Molecular Biology:

Thermocyclers, digital gel imaging system, Qiagen QIAxtractor, access to ABI DNA analysis system. Hardware and software for DNA sequence and fragment analysis and dedicated Linux 24 core analysis server.

Microscopy and Cytology:

Stereo dissecting and compound microscope from brightfield, DIC and Phase contrasts, Zeiss axioimager M” microscope with motorized z control and DIC optics.

Plant tissue culture:

Environmentally controlled plant micropropagation and growing room/cabinets, laminar flow work stations.

Scanning electron microscopy:

LEO Supra 55VP scanning electron microscope, ultramicrotome, Graphics PC workstation incl. slide scanner, Photoshop.

Histology and anatomy: Microtomes – single, rotary and freezing, embedding oven.

For a full list of the equipment that Users can apply to use, click here.

Information Technology and Access

All of the living collections and 20% of the herbarium collections, including all known type specimens, are databased and available on-line. RBGE has developed taxonomic databases for the Flora of Nepal and the families Sapotaceae, Begoniaceae, Zingiberaceae. The RBGE library catalogue is also available on-line.

Research supported by the infrastructure

RBGE research reflects the expertise of the staff and the richness of the living and herbarium collections, the library and archives. The three major strategic objectives for research are:

  • Conserving plant biodiversity in the face of global environmental change and mass extinction
  • Provision of baseline taxonomic/botanical data as a foundation science
  • Understanding the evolutionary processes that have given rise to the world’s botanical diversity

There are four research programmes:

Major Floras – floristic studies of botanically important regions in Nepal and Arabia. The development of innovative bioinformatics methods of dissemination of floristic information.

Tropical Diversity – biodiversity in the tropics. Taxonomic and phylogenetic study of the families Sapotaceae, Gesneriaceae, Zingiberaceae and Begoniaceae. Research on environmental change and biogeographic patterns of plants. Using genes and genomics to understand evolutionary development.

Cryptogamic Plants and Fungi – biodiversity of cryptogamic plants and fungi, exploration of the evolutionary processes giving rise to this biodiversity, and assessment of threats and development of strategies for conservation.

Genetics and Conservation – elucidatation of population genetic processes underlying the evolution of plant biodiversity in high conservation priority groups and development of practical strategies to contribute towards their conservation.

Recent highlights

Establishment of the Latin American Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest Floristic Network (DRYFLOR) a network of scientists from across Latin America to improve the understanding and conservation of seasonally dry tropical forests.

Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP). Implementing a wide range of projects to enhance taxonomic and conservation capacity in Afghanistan, Iraq and Arabian Peninsula.

Publication of volume three of the Flora of Nepal, the first of the Flora’s 10 Volumes. This Volume covers 21 families Magnoliaceae to Rosaceae and includes 600 species.

Funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Scottish Government allowing RBGE to make available digital images of over 230,000 herbarium specimens from the Edinburgh collections.