For more than 40 years it has stood in splendid isolation, the only species of its type among thousands of others.

But now a cutting from a tree cultivated by conservationists in Edinburgh in 1977 could help save a threatened population of its kind 6,000 miles away – near the spot where it was first taken from a native example.

Botanists from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh brought samples of the endangered conifer Amentotaxus argotaenia, also known as the catkin yew, back from Hong Kong.

Now, after an appeal from botanists in Hong Kong, rooted cuttings propagated from the original tree in Scotland have been flown across the world to help save the region’s now-scarce population.

The Scottish specimens are uniquely suitable to bolster the Hong Kong population as they are an exact genetic match.

Martin Gardner, co-ordinator of the Edinburgh-based International Conifer Conservation Programme, said his Hong Kong partners were “delighted but shocked” to find a descendent of their own trees on the other side of the world.

He said: “Having heard of the problems they were encountering with Amentotaxus in Hong Kong, we were very keen to help. We are bringing the story full circle.”

Amentotaxus argotaenia is classed as “near endangered” globally and is very rare in Hong Kong. Craig Williams, senior curator at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Kowloon, was worried about the prospects of any remaining wild plants, which could also be threatened by the recent arrival in Hong Kong of the day flying moth Milionia zonea, whose larvae feed on the leaves of some trees.

Two years ago, he discovered that Edinburgh was home to a living specimen, which originated from Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan.

Some 40 rooted cuttings were propagated over 18 months in Edinburgh before being carefully transported to Hong Kong in an attempt to boost the population.

Mr Gardner said: “This is the first time we have ever done this. More than 40 years ago, botanic gardens really weren’t centres for conservation.

“Because of the biodiversity crisis, botanic gardens like Edinburgh have become storage centres for genetic material. We have to be poised, ready to return material whenever it is needed.

“All we had was material taken from one tree that was here, but now they have 40 rooted cuttings that they are going to grow on and plant out. These will help to save the population in Hong Kong.

“With a larger population they have a better chance of survival.”

Mr Williams said the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden would celebrate the remarkable story, adding: “Amentotaxus argotaenia is a protected species here and it is of immense value to us to have rooted material from the Edinburgh accession. We aim to provide interpretation alongside a few specimens in our public display areas to explain the story of their amazing journey from one tree in Edinburgh.”

Gunter Fisher, Kadoorie’s head of flora conservation, added: “This is a great example of a shared vision for the conservation of rare plants and shows how botanic gardens can collaborate to put their living collections to constructive and practical use in global efforts.”

The news comes as the Royal Botanic Garden prepares a year-long programme of events to mark its 350th anniversary. The theme will be climate change and biodiversity loss and highlights include an expedition to Papua New Guinea in August, a birthday party for the public in June and a gala concert in October.

The four-week Papua New Guinea trip will aim to discover and record new species of plants and insects, and monitor biodiversity by using next-generation DNA sequencing.

It will work in collaboration with the Papua New Guinea Forest Research Institute and the National Museum of Scotland, Other events include the opening in June of the Garden of Tranquillity for visitors with dementia.

There will also be a debate on Halting Plant Extinction on 26 November. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh began in 1670 when two doctors, Andrew Balfour and Robert Sibbald, established a physic garden near the Palace of Holyroodhouse to study and supply plants for medicinal purposes.

The garden prospered and, in 1675, moved to a larger site at Trinity Hospital, where Waverley Station now stands. In 1763, under the leadership of John Hope, with an endowment from the Crown and Royal status, the garden moved from the Old Town to Leith Walk.

It remained there until 1820, when the garden began the move to its current site in Inverleith.