EMPIRE is the theme of a new exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

Shipping Roots is Keg de Souza’s first major UK exhibition and draws on her own life to address the impact of moving plants and people between continents. As a person of Goan heritage, whose ancestral lands in India were colonised, she lives as a “settler” on unceded Gadigal land known the world over as Sydney, its colonial name and significantly the landing point for the “First Fleet” of 11 British ships carrying around 1500 people – including 700 convicts – to start a new penal colony there in 1788.

The artist said the intention behind Shipping Roots was to produce an exhibition to make people reflect on the past in order to think about the future.

“The destructive impact still witnessed today, invoked by the British Empire and accelerated by European colonial expansion, continues to massively alter ecosystems,” she said.

“We now live in a world where the legacy of colonialism on land and landscape through this movement of plants has left lasting impacts, many of which have propelled us towards climate crisis.”

The first of the three strands, Blue Haze, echoes the journey of the eucalyptus away from its culturally significant Aboriginal land to destinations around the globe, including the artist’s Indian ancestral land where it is the most common tree in timber plantations. It has been utilised for a raft of products from road cobbles to telegraph poles.

Now, covering a land mass area over 22 million hectares worldwide, in many countries these prolific trees are contributing to environmental devastation by lowering water tables and increasing fire risk.

In Green Hell, the spotlight is on the lasting impact of failed attempts to establish cochineal dye industries in India and Australia by introducing both the insect from which a bright red colour is extracted and the invasive prickly pear cactus on which it feeds.

Closer to home, Fleece Fugitives tells how the movement and spread of plants is not always intentional. When the high-quality fleeces of Australian sheep breeds were transported across the seas some were carrying hidden hitchhikers in the form of seeds and burrs.

The British wool industry inadvertently allowed these tiny stowaways to escape through wool waste or “shoddy” and in the effluent from the mills. Once released, seeds propagated and diversified the landscape along riverbanks.

A companion book for the exhibition will be published and a number of complementary events are planned. Shipping Roots runs from now until August 27 at Inverleith House in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.