Latest Event Updates
Yes, we had a flood, which was not as disastrous as it could have been. Most of the water flowed down the spiral staircase or through the floor and affected the museum galleries below us on every floor. Those galleries were closed that day and some still have warped floorboards.
The flood started in our Mosses and Liverworts room where a water mains pipe fed into a smaller pipe. It used to feed a water tank in that room, which is no longer there. The pressure joint between the two pipes burst open in the middle of the night and water flooded out for a few hours before University security staff responded to the fire alarm. They had to break open the door at the top of the spiral staircase to get in.
Luckily most of our specimens were off the floor on shelves but some were damaged by spray in that room. The few boxes of specimens on the floor (that suffered the most) were unnamed, unincorporated or labelled “Offer or dispose”. They still all had to be dried out!
We found that each shelf acted like a floor: a horizontal surface on which puddles sat, slowly seeping into boxes. Only perforated shelving would reduce this, I suppose.
The Manchester Museum’s wonderful conservation team and house services team came in during the night and grabbed boxes & specimens to lay out on extra benches on blotting paper. We had lots of soggy boxes, which were thrown out, but the specimens inside were not as soggy and could be dried out and saved. Some of the paper is a bit crinkly but the plants just dried out and the ink on the labels stayed. Good old Victorian indian ink and good quality paper!
Conservation already had a flood plan and some boxes of gear to grab, which was great, but there were no torches, which they needed because the flood had shorted the electric circuit and the emergency lights hadn’t come on. Thank goodness for torch apps! But at the time, nobody knew what was important, fragile or to be disposed of.
My role over the next few days was to check and turn everything laid out to dry. Folders and packets of specimens had been laid out on every available surface. Some offprints were made of strange shiny paper which wouldn’t dry and went mouldy after a week so we threw those away. Some specimens were left without a home as the box and outside label had been thrown away.
We are mostly back to normal after the flood. The water pipe was sealed and removed, and specimens have been put in new boxes and are back on the shelves. Ready for the next project: Roller racking in the Quad room!
It’s the end of an era in the Manchester Museum Herbarium as we have a room cleared in preparation for a new storage system. The Quad Room (overlooking the Old Quadrangle and the John Owens building) was home to the lichen, algae and Leo Grindon cultivated plant collections along with part of the herbarium library. In the last two weeks we have moved them all out so that the old wooden cupboards can be removed. These were built when the collection was stored in a different style and so now that the herbarium sheets are in green solander boxes, the cupboards and shelves don’t make the most efficient use of space.
In its place, we will be having a compactor system installed and it’s moveable racking should make much better use of this room. These mobile racks are secondhand and have been dismantled from the Whitworth Art Gallery as part of the major refurbishment works. It’ll be the last time we get to see some of these views!
While we’re making changes, not all of our collections will be as accessible as usual. In particular, we don’t currently have access to the lichens, the fungi, the algae or the Leo Grindon Cultivated Plants. However, there is still plenty to see, such as the majority of the flowering plant collections, the ferns, the fruits and seeds and the mosses. While access to the herbarium for visitors will be limited while the work takes place, these collections can still be viewed in our Collections Study Centre.
Tonight sees the opening of our latest exhibtion ‘Coral: Something Rich and Strange’ which shows beautiful natural history specimens of coral alongside amazing works of art.
At the front of the exhibition is a crochet coral reef; a satellite from the reef of the Institute for Figuring in California. The reef includes a few pieces created by curatorial staff and volunteers, who may not have fully mastered the art of crochet, but who can now make curly hyperbolic shapes. This reef will grow over the course of the exhibition (which runs until the 16th March 2014) and so there’s plenty of time to join in if you’re interested in promoting coral reef consevation or fancy trying your hand at crochet. The reef also features an area of coral bleaching.
Although reef-building corals are animals, they often have a partner – microscopic, single-celled algae known as zooxanthellae (specifically dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium). The coral povides protection and the zooxanthellae collect energy from the sun by photosynthesis to produce sugars. This sort of life-style is similar to that of the symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae in lichens.
Coral bleaching happens when a coral becomes stressed (e.g. through rising sea temperatures, pollution or high UV) and can expels the algae. As corals are mostly transparent, losing the brown-coloured symbiotic algae reveals the (often) white calcium carbonate structure. As the algae produce sugars which can feed the corals, this bleaching can quickly cause starvation making the corals suceptible to disease and causing the death of patches of the reef.
Recently I was lucky enough to go to the Natural History Museum in London for the launch of their Seaweed Collections Online. Jane Pottas and Jo Wilbraham have spent the last year collecting images and information from 14 different institutions aiming to make seaweed data from regional herbariums more accessible (see the RBGE write-up here).
The team selected aound 150 different species of seaweed from the c.650 species found around the UK. Species were selected for reasons such as their conservation status (rarity), if they provide an ecosystem service (such as an important habitat) or if their distribution is changing (perhaps through environmental change).
430 images of specimens of seaweeds which were collected between the 1840s and 1964 were photographed from the Manchester Museum collection for the project and are now available through the online catalogue.
My apologies for not updating sooner. My latest project has me working in the bowels of the Herbarium. Down a spiral staircase in the Herbarium tower is where the Materia Medica collection is kept. The collection is something like a cross between a Victorian pharmacy and an Ethnobotanist's store room. The collection is kept in the Herbarium as most of the medicinal specimens consist of plant material, though we also have powdered cockroaches and medicinal leeches!