For more than 300 years, gardeners and scientists at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE) have quietly gone about their work preserving and studying plants from across the globe.
But bosses at the Scottish Government quango have now declared all RBGE staff must undergo mandatory ‘racism’ training to learn about the garden’s ‘historical links’ to racial inequality and colonialism.
They will be told how the plants they care for are, in effect, grown from cuttings stolen from indigenous people and that the garden itself is guilty of ‘structural racism’ and of destroying the planet.
The garden – famed for its exotic plant glasshouses – is the latest Scottish institution to publicly denounce itself after the Burrell Collection in Glasgow updated displays to be more ‘transparent’ about links with the slave trade.
But last night critics hit back at the RBGE’s plans to give its staff racism training – claiming it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
GROWING ANXIETY: The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh says too many plants are named after white Europeans
A Pacific dance group performs at the garden to highlight climate change threat
BOTANISTS WHOSE LEGACY LIVES ON IN THEIR ‘FINDS’
Hala fruit (Pandanus tectorius)
Dwarf rhododendron (Rhododendron forrestii ‘Carmen’)
David Douglas the man the doulas fir tree is named after
Western institutions have traditionally been the ones to give scientific names to plants, meaning many are called after the botanists who brought them back to Europe.
But the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh believes this ‘silences’ indigenous people who likely knew the plants long before they were ‘discovered’ by explorers.
Plant hunter George Forrest, known as “Scotland’s Indiana jones of the plant world”.
According to its racial justice report of 2022, more than a quarter of new plants between 2000 and 2016 were named after people outside of the species’ country of origin – and predominantly after white Britons.
Many plants are also called after 18th and 19th century European explorers. For example, Scottish botanist David Douglas had several Hawaiian plants named after him, including a tropical fruit tree which is known to Western science as Pandanus douglasii – but which was already known as Hala to the islanders.
A North American horned toad, Phrynosoma douglasii, is also one of the more than 80 species of plants and animals that have douglasii in their scientific names in his honour.
Fellow Scots botanist George Forrest also made his name exploring the globe and bringing plants home.
He is believed to have collected 31,000 specimens from the Yunnan region of China, including Rhododendron forrestii (right), Pieris formosa var forrestii, Primula forrestii, Iris forrestii and Hypericum forrestii. Many of his ‘finds’ are displayed at the RBGE’s herbarium.
Director of the Free Speech Union Toby Young said: ‘Why is it wasting money on this nonsense? It might as well advertise for a Witch-Finder General to search for witches hiding in the botanic garden.’
The controversial move comes after the RBGE pledged to stop naming plants after white Europeans and start adding trigger warnings to its archive papers.
Its racial justice report – commissioned following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 – stated: ‘Historical documents in our archive may contain colonialist, offensive and/or distressing racist language.
‘We should develop appropriate content warning statements to notify readers where this appears.
‘Scientific names for plants celebrate their white European discoverers, effectively silencing indigenous people.
‘Our naming conventions need to be examined to avoid perpetuating colonialist power structures. The movement of plants around the world during this period of history was fundamentally connected to slavery, exploitation and racism.
‘Historic colonialism is connected to present-day environmental degradation via the forced movement of plants and people.
‘Historic plant specimens collected without permits, permissions or adherence to access and benefit-sharing agreements can be considered stolen from indigenous people.’
A public contract uploaded to the Scottish Government’s portal suggests all of this information will be relayed to staff, including scientists, gardeners, researchers and tour guides, via a £2,000 ‘racial justice awareness’ training course.
A note reads: ‘This racial awareness initiative has two main objectives: enriching RBGE staff’s understanding and enhancing their racial awareness.’ The RBGE was established in 1670 and has a collection of 273,000 plants. It employs 240 people.
Simon Milne, Regius Keeper at the garden, said: ‘The conversation over racial diversity is not new. The decision to implement training is simply the latest stage of our journey.
‘As an institute working in more than 40 countries, it is essential to provide the best available support for all our staff and students in working fairly, with equity.’
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk