Month: February 2010

Herbarium Films 4

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Here are some more ‘behind the scenes’ videos from the botany stores.

In this first clip, Leander shows you round the area where the liverworts and fungi are stored.  Please excuse the boxes cluttering up this space – they are being temporarily stored here while some maintenance work is being carried out in the top tower room.  The clip ends with a trip upstairs to the mezzanine and the collection of mosses.

This clip shows where the majority of the European flowering plants are stored together with our collection of  exsiccatae (books of dried and pressed plant specimens).

Herbarium Films 3 – The Library

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In this clip Leander shows you our secret library, hidden behind the cupboards of lichens and crytogams.  All the books in the herbarium library were catalogued onto the John Rylands University Library database and are searchable through their website.  The books are available for consultation and reference and can be viewed, by appointment, at the museum’s Resource Centre.

Herbarium Films 2

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Here are some more short videos shot in the herbarium.

This first clip is taken in what we refer to as the British corridor, although in truth it has more boxes of European flowering plants than British (we do have another corridor referred to as the European corridor which contains exclusively European flowering plants).

In this second clip Leander shows where the Leo Grindon and Algae collections are stored, and shows some examples of interesting specimens from those collections.

Herbarium Films 1

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Over the past week we have been very busy making a series of films to show you behind the scenes of the herbarium at The Manchester Museum.  Although we admit the clips are far from professional, we do feel they have a certain charm…

Leander introducing the herbarium and showing off some of our Charles Darwin specimens.

Leander introduces Charles Bailey, Cosmo Melvill and Leo Grindon – the three main contributors to the herbarium’s collection

Lindsey’s February walk

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A bright, icy cold morning set the scene for my February walk at Etherow Country park, Stockport.  If you’re new to the herbology blog, I pledged to enjoy the seasons changing by going for a walk every month as part of  2010:International Year of Biodiversity.

Part of the lake was frozen so the ducks were all huddled up at one end.   There were lots of people out enjoying the chilly day and children chasing over the bridges at the far end of the lake.  We found spring green shoots of daffs pushing their way up through the frozen soil.  Spring is on its way!

Etherow Country Park was the first country park.  The webpage tells us it was “established in 1968 around an old cotton mill, the park has steadily grown in size and popularity and now attracts over a quarter of a million visitors every year.

“Etherow Country Park is rich in wildlife. The park is home to over 200 species of plants and more than a hundred species of birds have been recorded here.  The park has its own nature reserve which is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.  The wide variety of habitats within the park allow an abundance of wild plants to thrive here. With the exception of mid-winter, plants are easily spotted throughout the year. Look out for flora such as Dog’s Mercury, Wood Anemone, Hedge Woundwort and Common Spotted Orchid, among many others.

Etherow Country Park is certainly worth a visit:

and so are Yew…

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Brendel model of Taxus baccata – female flower, fruit (aril)

So here is the last of my botanical, Valentine’s Day posts. I admit this last post is a bit tenuous and I do hope you will pardon my pun.

Looking back over the Valentine’s posts I’ve realised I’ve perhaps not altogether gotten into the spirit of Valentine’s Day with all my talk of wars, slavery and exploitation and I’m afraid with such a tenuous link I will be unable to remedy that now.

However, did you know that the wood from the yew is very springy making it the wood of choice for longbow makers?  I’m sure, therefore, that Cupid’s bow would have been made from a yew.


This springy quality of yews meant that they were in great demand until bows were eventually replaced with guns. Unfortunately, yew is also a very knotty wood resulting in a lot of wastage, consequently the demand for bowstaves led to the demise of the great Yew forests of Western Europe.  Here at the Manchester Museum our archery collection consists of over 4,000 objects.

Yews that manage to avoid the chop have the potential to live for a very long time.   The Fortingall Yew Tree found in the centre of Scotland, is believed to be at the very least 2,000 years old and possibly as old as 5,000 years making it  the oldest organism in Britain, and maybe the world!


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet
And so are Yew.

Please note, Yew trees are NOT sweet, in fact they are quite poisonous!

Sugar is sweet…

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Yes, roses can be red, violets are blueish, and sugar is undoubtably sweet to taste.  However, as the Revealing Histories project we took part in a few years ago revealed, life for those involved in the sugar trade has not always been so sweet…

Sugar was produced by enslaved Africans on British-owned sugar plantations in the Caribbean for 200 years from the 1600s. The plantations were immensely profitable and boosted the British economy to the extent that sugar was nicknamed ‘white gold’. Most sugar was exported raw and then refined when it reached Britain. Sugar refineries were discouraged in the West Indies; partly because refined sugar didn’t travel well during long damp ocean voyages, and also to afford maximum protection to British profits, as the refinement process considerably increased its financial value.

Life on the sugar plantations was much more hazardous than in the cotton plantations of the USA. Sugar production involved exhausting  labour and long shifts in high temperature and humidity. Many Africans died within five years of arriving in the West Indies, quickly replaced by the slave trade’s plentiful supply of fresh workers.

Specimens of sugar cane specimen collected by P & J A Sillitoe

Sugar cane, noble cane (English), Ikshu, khanda, sarkara (Sanskrit), Pundia, paunda (Hindi), Poovan karumbu (Tamil) has the botanical name of Saccharum officinarum and belongs to the grass or Poaceae family.  The sugar is found in the stems of the plants, which look rather like bamboo, and can grow up to 6 meters tall.

Undated illustration of Saccharum officinarum from Gardener’s Chronicle, from Leo Grindon collection

Below are two jars of sugar which came from Tate and Lyle Ltd, Liverpool.  These specimens were also used as part of the Revealing Histories project.

Bottled sugar specimens from a collection of Cocoa, Cotton and Sugar donated by Cadbury, Horrocks and Tate in 1923
Saccharum officinarum illustration - Leo Grindon collection
Saccharum officinarum illustration - Leo Grindon collection
Saccharum officinarum illustration - Leo Grindon collection
Saccharum officinarum specimen collected by P & J A Sillitoe

Unusual Trees to Look Out for (1)

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Unusual Trees to Look Out for (1)

Sciadopitys verticillata (Sciadopityaceae), Umbrella Pine 165/025

Sciadopitys is from two Greek roots, meaning (YES!) ‘umbrella’ and ‘pine’.  Verticillata means ‘whorled’.  A native tree of Japan, there called Koyamaki, it is said to be rare now.

“The Koyamaki was chosen as the Japanese Imperial crest for Prince Hisahito of Akishino, currently third in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.” – Wikipedia.

It was introduced by John Gould Veitch into Britain in 1860.  As you might guess from its appearance, it’s not a pine at all.  It’s the sole member of the family Sciadopityaceae, and is a living fossil, having been present in the fossil record for 230 million years – the first known examples appearing in the Triassic period.  At one time it was more widespread; fossils have been found in northern Europe.  Research using infrared microspectroscopy has revealed that some of its close family members among the Sciadopityaceae are the source of Baltic amber.  (It used to be thought that the amber was from members of the Araucariaceae and Pinaceae families.)

A spider and ant trapped in Baltic amber. The small stellate hairs are from the amber tree.

It has no close relatives, although it was formerly classified as a member of the family Taxodiaceae. (Demonstrating these matters of classification to be even more fluid, recent research has shown the Taxodiaceae to be part of the Cupressaceae family, which includes the cypresses, redwoods, cryptomerias, cedars and others.  Even the usually authoritative International Plant Names Index still shows the tree as being in the Taxodiaceae.)

Our first two photographs are of a specimen tree in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester.  I’ve also spotted a young tree, not much over a meter high, in the botanical woodlands at Portmeirion.

Portmeirion woodlands, 2009

Mature cone, New York Botanical Garden

Sheet from our Grindon Herbarium with illustrations from Louis van Houtte’s Flore des serres et des jardins de l’Europe and articles from The Gardener’s Chronicle and elsewhere.

-Daniel King

Violets are blue…

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Viola illustrations from the Leo Grindon collection

Viola odorata or Sweet Violet is an evergreen, perennial, woodland plant which grows to about 10cm tall.  It is a pretty and useful little plant whose leaves and flowers are edible.  All parts of the plant have been used in traditional remedies where it was used to treat cancer and whooping cough.  Old herbalists recommended Violets for ague, epilepsy, eye inflammation, pleurisy and jaundice. Syrup of Violets is a laxative, colouring agent and flavouring in some medicines.  Violets also contains salicylic acid, which is used to make aspirin, and is therefore effective in the treatment of headaches, migraine and insomnia.

Traditionally, the Violet was the real flower of Valentine’s Day, not the Rose. Valentine was persecuted by a Roman Emperor who imprisoned him. In prison, Valentine would crush the Violet flowers growing outside to make into an ink for writing on the leaves to his friends. A dove collected these messages. He was executed on 14 February 269 AD.

In folklore dreaming of violets will bring good fortune and wearing them round your neck would stop you from getting drunk!

The Violet

Down in a green and shady bed,
A modest violet grew;
Its stalk was bent, it hung its head
As if to hide from view.
And yet it was a lovely flower,
Its colour bright and fair;
It might have graced a rosy bower,
Instead of hiding there.

Yet thus it was content to bloom,
In modest tints arrayed;
And there diffused a sweet perfume,
Within the silent shade.

Then let me to the valley go
This pretty flower to see;
That I may also learn to grow
In sweet humility.

Jane Taylor

Viola specimen from Leo Grindon collection

Roses are red…

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As we are approaching February 14th I thought it would be nice to have some Valentine’s Day inspired posts.

The obvious place to start is with the rose – the flower of love.  It is one of the most popular and oldest flowers known to man. The word rose has come from the Latin word rosa meaning red, and the flower has been a symbol of love since ancient times.

It has become traditional to give either a dozen red roses or a single red rose on Valentine’s Day, but roses come in so many other colours with each shade having it’s own meaning.

Here are some colours and their meanings:

Red – Love, Romance, Beauty, Passion, I love you; Desire, Courage; Respect
Red (Dark or Burgundy) – Unconscious beauty
Red -Withered – I would rather die, Our love is over
White – Purity, Youth, Pure Love, Virginal, Innocence and purity, I am worthy of you, You’re heavenly
Pink – Happiness, Appreciation, Thankfulness, Grace, Gentle Love, Please believe me
Dark Pink – Gratitude, Thank You
Yellow – Joy, Gladness, Friendship, Delight, Platonic Love, Jealousy, Freedom
Yellow with Red Tip – Falling in Love
Orange – Fascination, Desire, Passion, Enthusiasm
Red and White – Two colors; Passionate Purity, Unity
Peach – Sincerity, Gratitude, Appreciation, Modesty, Admiration, Sympathy
Lavender – Love at first sight, Enchantment
Black – Death, Farewell
Blue – Impossible, Unattainable, Mystery
Red Rosebud – Symbol of Purity and Loveliness
White Rosebud – Girlhood, Youth
Thornless Rose – “Love at First Sight”
Single Rose – Simplicity
Two Roses – An engagement or coming marriage
Leaves – Symbol of hope
Roses-Sent every month – Beauty ever new

On his marriage, Henry adopted the Tudor Rose badge conjoining the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster

The rose is also the national flower of England.  This dates back to the Wars of The Roses (1455 – 1485).  The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil wars between supporters of the rival houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose), for the throne of England.  The wars ended when Henry Tudor took the crown of England from Richard III in battle. Henry’s father was Edmund Tudor from the House of Richmond, and his mother was Margaret Beaufort from the House of Lancaster; he then married Elizabeth of York to bring all factions together.  

A Yorkshire Rose
A Lancashire Rose