Chinese book uses Scottish examples of native rhododendrons

R. neriiflorum ssp. phaedropum. Picture: Contributed
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A Chinese book about rhododendrons features Scottish-grown blooms after a botanist decided they looked better than the native ones.

The flower is much revered in the Far East and a glossy book is being prepared by senior officials in Sichuan – but with pictures taken in Edinburgh rather than a more Oriental setting.

The collaboration is a result of the pandas’ arrival at Edinburgh Zoo. ­Chinese officials in the city to visit the animals, which are on long-­term loan, also took a trip to the city’s Royal Botanic Garden and were impressed by the vast collection of Chinese rhododendrons there.

When they decided to create a 350-­page glossy book with detailed botanical photographs to celebrate the flowers they turned to the Royal Botanic Garden for help.

Professor Pete Hollingsworth, the garden’s director of science, said: “It might seem strange to ask someone in Edinburgh to photograph 
Chinese plants for the Chinese but we have the best collection of rhododendrons in the world – there are just over 1,000 different species and we have more than 600.

“In the wild in China, a mountainside of rhododendrons in bloom is spectacular – rather like I would imagine the Garden of Eden to look.

“But the advantage here is they are all together in a compact space and we are sure of their botanical identification, so a photographer doesn’t have to go off trekking for days in the mountains and then find out they have missed them flowering or got the wrong one.”

Botanical photographer David Purvis, 27, has spent 18 months photographing the flowers for the book, including close-­ups of the stamens and cross­-sections of the flowers.

His deadline to photograph all 150 species that will feature in the book is the end of October – and he has 90 to go.

Many of the ancestors of the plants he is photographing were brought to the Botanics just over 100 years ago by botanists and explorers, such as Falkirk-­born George Forrest, one of the first outsiders to explore the more remote areas of China. He escaped a massacre which left the rest of his team slain to bring back hundreds of samples.

Dr Li Desheng, Deputy Director of the China Centre for Giant Panda Research and Conservation in Sichuan province, which has commissioned the book, said: “The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has a world­-class collection of rhododendrons and the China Centre for Giant Panda Research and Conservation is delighted to collaborate with it in the production of a high­quality rhododendron 
publication.”

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