These are a few of our favourite things… Highlights of the 2021 RBGE collections for the Darwin Tree of Life

The Darwin Tree of Life is an ambitious project that aims to sequence the genomes of all 70,000 species of eukaryotic organisms of Britain and Ireland. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is one of six Genome Acquisition Labs (GALs), tasked with the collection, identification and curation of samples for the project. Here we show some of our favourite collections from 2021.

The Darwin Tree of Life at Beinn Eighe NNR

The Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is a landscape of magnificent biodiversity. We showcase some of the bryophyte collections made from the reserve for the Darwin Tree of Life project and share our ambitions for future collaborations, aimed at creating a Scottish Genomic Observatory.

High microsite soil moisture leads to increased infection by Phytophthora austrocedri

Phytophthora austrocedri is now endemic in the UK, further threatening juniper (Juniperus communis s. l.): a keystone species already undergoing long-term population declines. With little existing knowledge about the specific host-pathogen-environment interaction and few resources dedicated to disease detection, where should conservation effort for this keystone species be prioritised? Our results show that management for juniper - such as grazing regulation, scrub clearance and creation of sites for natural regeneration - should be prioritised for stands growing in drier microsites. Disturbance of soil in wetter microsites should also be controlled, to maximise the resilience of existing juniper populations and limit disease spread.

Surprising finds in 2021 from freshwater lochs at Corrour, Westerness (vc97)

Two remarkable finds new to vc97 Westerness were made at Corrour this year. Baldellia ranunculoides (Lesser Water-plantain) subsp. repens was discovered flowering widely in Loch Ossian, Loch Guilbin and the River Ossian,  whilst Illecebrum verticillatum (Coral Necklace) was found in huge abundance in the drawdown zone of Loch Treig. The significance of these new finds and possible explanations for them are considered.

An Illustrated Book of Peat. The life and death of bogs: A new synthesis

This new book takes a holistic view at the life cycle of temperate ombrotrophic peatlands, a cycle which has to be considered in millennia. The first part explains why such peat forms, the second part explains the development of patterned bogs, and the third part suggests a new classification system of erosion. The fourth part applies this understanding to the conservation and management of peatlands, and to climate change implications. There are seven appendices, the last of which includes a carbon calculator. The Royal Scottish Geographical Society has kindly supported the printing of the book, which is available from at

Additions to Skye, Raasay and the Small Isles (VC104) in 2021

There was much recording in the Vice-county during the year with several folks (myself included) still unable to give up the habit of completing monad record cards, despite the end of Atlas 2020 recording. About 110 new hectad records were made including twelve of Hieracium species determined by David McCosh. Included in this list are fourteen plants that were recorded for the first time in the vice-county, the majority of which were found in Portree during surveys for the Urban Flora of Scotland project. Only one is a Scottish native. Images of the fourteen new plants are shown with brief comments.

A Botanical Site Register for Midlothian (VC83)

In 2021 a Botanical Site Register has been compiled as a companion to the Rare Plant Register (RPR) compiled in 2020. Both are now viewable via a link from the Midlothian webpage on the BSBI website ( In contrast to the RPR, the Site Register is designed as a spreadsheet in Excel, which has enabled more detail to be included for each record, where available. The Site Register lists the most recent records in the Extant section of the RPR and groups them by hectad and site, instead of by species. An example from the Botanical Site Register spreadsheet is shown.

A survey of the flora of seven cemeteries in Dundee

Two visits were made to seven cemeteries in Dundee in spring and summer 2021-2022, noting all wild vascular plants. 176 species were recorded, with a mean of 63 per cemetery (range 25 to 116), more than in an Easter Ross survey. Species included Saxifraga granulata (2 sites), Dactylorhiza fuchsia (2sites) and Luzula campestris (3 sites). There was some suggestion of a heathland or woodland origin in a few places. These graveyards were heavily managed with grass cutting and herbicide use, although a few untidy corners survived.

Cemeteries in Easter Ross

20 cemeteries, 12 rural and 8 urban, were visited twice in spring and summer 2020-2021 and all wild plants noted. 151 species were recorded in total, 88 being in both urban and rural. A mean of 39.0 species per site were found in the rural cemeteries and 38.4 in urban. 12 neophytes were recorded in rural cemeteries and 8 in urban sites. Saxifraga granulata was present in quantity in two urban graveyards and Luzula campestris was widespread, being seen in 16 cemeteries. These sites are very heavily managed with grass cutting and herbicide application and there were relatively few differences between urban and rural locations.

Urban or Rural flora – which is more diverse in Easter Ross?

Ten pairs of 100 metre squares, one urban and one rural, were randomly selected in Easter Ross from the same hectad. They were visited twice for 40 minutes. In winter 100 species were recorded in the urban squares and 97 in the rural, In summer 104 species in the urban and 136 in the rural. Neophytes accounted for 16% in the urban and 3% in the rural samples. Species totals were 143 urban and 159 rural. Partial access was only possible in most squares and caution is needed in assessing these findings. Possible reasons for the findings include especially herbicide use and also species composition and micro-climate.

Two distinctive hybrids new to Dumfriesshire

Two hybrids found this year which are new to Dumfriesshire are shown in this exhibit. They are distinctive in the field and as the parents of each are widely distributed they ought to be more frequently recorded.  This is the case in the H0ighlands but south of the central belt of Scotland neither have been found as frequently and should be looked for.

Introducing Rubus longiflorus

Rubus longiflorus bushes were found independently by myself and George Ballantyne at Catterline in Kincardineshire (v.c.91) during the 1990s. They have not been matched to any known microspecies. They have been described in a paper in British & Irish Botany 3(2) 188-195 (2021) as a new taxon.

Interesting finds in Kincardineshire (VC91) during 2021

We present some highlights of the 2021 field season: Gentianella campestris (Field Gentian) feared lost but refound; Equisetum pratense (Shady Horsetail) rediscovered after 150 years; Ornithopus pusillus (Bird's-foot) first large population found; Salix triandra (Almond Willow) first record since 1920; Hieracium prenanthoides (Rough-leaved Hawkweed) first record; Erysimum cheiranthoides (Treacle-mustard) first record since 1875; Anisantha rubens (Foxtail Brome) - subject to confirmation - the only British record this millennium.