National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Birch (ornamental)

Birch (ornamental)

Betula albosinensis, family Betulaceae
all year

This attractive ornamental birch from West China is often seen in modern gardens. It was first introduced into cultivation by English plant collector Ernest Henry Wilson for Veitch's nursery in 1901, and again by the Falkirk-born Scottish plant collector George Forrest (1873-1932). Forrest was one of the most prolific collectors of all time, carrying out seven expeditions to China from 1904 until his death in the field in 1932. Originally an employee of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, his funding came from several sources, including English cotton merchant and founder of Ness Botanic Gardens Arthur Kilpin Bulley and estate owner J.C. Williams.

He collaborated with Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour (1853-1922) and Sir William Wright Smith (1875-1956), who were both Regius Keepers of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Balfour and Smith described many of the new plant introductions made by Forrest which included primulas, meconopsis, lillies and rhododendrons, many of which were new to science.

Forrest employed indigenous collectors to assist him and the contributions made by them to both science and the modern garden is enormous as they introduced innumerable new species of these genera and lilies to cultivation. They also sent back over 31,000 dried herbarium specimens. A prolific photographer and an expert naturalist with an interest in birds, mammals and insects, there are many plants named after Forrest and his correspondence and photographic collections still exists in the archives of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh today.

Ornamental Birch. Image credit: wlcutler, Flicker. CC license