By Andrey A Pritsepov, Consul General of the Russian Federation in Edinburgh, and Simon Milne, Regius Keeper, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

THE key commonality between plant science and diplomacy it is the sensitivity towards passing seasons. Both must learn to adapt to withstand good times and bad.

In an unsettled period for world politics and diplomacy some respite is sorely needed. When diplomatic relations are strained, innovative and creative approaches to building bridges between nations is even more in demand.

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Plants recognise no boundaries and, as such, botanists are frequently granted leeway in their pursuit of plant science. Against this backdrop the Moscow Main Botanic Garden and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) have established a new partnership in conservation and public engagement. Included in this is an exchange of native plants between the two to bring a piece of Russia to Scottish soil and vice-versa.

RBGE is passionate about its role in delivering international and national plant science and conservation. Much is still to be learned. Knowledge already acquired is being used extensively by medics and scientists, and now by diplomats. In hospitals our plant dependence is evidenced from knowing cancer patients have been treated with an extract of taxus – the yew tree – while atropine, from deadly nightshade, is administered before operations and a compound from daffodil bulbs is dispensed for Alzheimer’s disease. More routinely, our days are supplemented through direct contact with products from plant species, from cotton sheets to wooden floors, food stuffs and beverages of all kinds.

What we don’t know is which plants are yet to come to our rescue or if they are being destroyed before we learn of their existence. Already two-thirds of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States are derived from plants and fungi. Yet more than one-third of the world’s plant species are under threat of extinction. Estimates suggest native forest is being lost at a rate of between 45,000 and 55,000 square miles every year – an area about the size of Greece. If this loss of our natural resources continues new solutions to pressing economic and health problems will vanish.

Botanists and horticulturists from RBGE are working in partnership around the world to better understand and protect our flora and fungi. The future depends on alliances in plant diplomacy, transcending political boundaries in the name of conserving our fragile environment.

The organisation’s newest partnership, with Siberia, is significant. As every Russian knows, this region is a very special place. It is a vast land of untouched wild nature, an essence of everything dear to all Russians, an unforgiving yet a noble land. It is held in the hearts of Russians in the same way the Highlands touch the soul of the Scots.

Russia is the largest country on Earth and has the planet’s biggest expanse of forest. Its three distinct climate regions and diverse landscapes are home to thousands of plant species. Many popular UK garden plants such as Dianthus superbus, Erythronium sibericum and Rhododendron ledebourii and Pulsatilla turczaninovii originate from Russia.

The recent opening of the new Siberian Section of RBGE’s Rock Garden is noteworthy. It coincides with the signing of a Memorandum of Co-operation between the leading botanical institutes of both countries “to promote co-operation between the two institutions in education and in academic research in plant resources.” Now, specimens collected on fieldwork over the last six years will be on public display. In return, plants native to Scotland will be displayed in Moscow in a celebration of research without borders. Working to advance plant research, combat the loss of biodiversity and inspire the public.

RBGE is a global scientific asset, a national treasure and community resource of infinite worth. The Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Edinburgh is keen to contribute by means of diplomacy and botany. Both parties consider it a significant honour and privilege to work together in enhancing such collaboration. In so doing, a lasting legacy of historic and cultural ties is created.

The Siberian Section of the Edinburgh Garden is a Gateway to Russia using the universal language of nature to communicate and foster co-operation through which a synergy can be created to yield the best harvest.

We are confident the Siberian Section and the upcoming Scottish Section of the Moscow Main Botanic Gardens will be a symbol of mutual understanding and friendship and serve as a timely reminder that the things we have in common outnumber our differences.