Month: February 2014

Manchester Museum Allotment

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Spring is (almost) in the air and so we’ve been making plans for the Museum allotment.

Museum Meets

Volunteers and staff have been growing food in raised beds in the courtyard outside the entrance of the Museum since 2011. The original aims of the Museum Allotment were to be a positive example of our connections with nature, as expressed in the gallery Living Worlds and be part of the Museum’s vision of promoting a sustainable world.

We’ve grown and given away potatoes, nasturtium, blackcurrants, rhubarb and strawberries. In 2012 we grew sunflowers for a citizen science project and in our shed we put up posters about gardening, nature and food events in Manchester. There is a green roof on the shed. The Allotment has hosted participatory events where children and adults have planted seeds, made bird boxes, pressed apples, watered the beds and there have been many conversations about food and growing. We’ve participated in the Big Butterfly count and seen many earthworms, cabbage flies, aphids, ladybirds and…

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The Roller Racking’s Arrived!

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It’s been a hectic start to 2014 at the herbarium! Following the break for Christmas and New Year we had some fantastic roller racking installed. The racking was salvaged from the Whitworth art gallery following their redevelopment. The room overlooking the Old Quad was cluttered with all sorts of specimens. It was previously home to Algae amongst others in grand old cupboards. It took a while, and a huge moving effort from the team, but after a couple of days we had managed to: temporarily re-house our solander boxes in a temporary makeshift home, clear out the vast runs of journals and books hidden behind shelves and finally we had fully cleared the room ready for the installation team.

Nearing the end of the removal process before installation could begin
Nearing the end of the removal process before installation could begin
Halfway through installation.
Halfway through installation.

Now that the roller racking is installed it allows us to make much more efficient use of the space we have. Our solander box collections can now be stored in a greatly compact way, whilst still allowing access when necessary. There are 8 new shelving units in the roller racking, each with the capacity to store 97 solander boxes. Whilst the permanent occupants of the racking have not yet been decided, the increased storage capacity has allowed us to begin the plans to re-organise the entire collections into a more logical and flowing way

photo 1    roller2

The job of re-arranging our collections has not been an easy one. Lots of number crunching has taken place. The aim is to get all the collections more efficiently organised and to work the boxes that currently take up our work bench space into the collections on the racking. The project will involve each box in the entire collection moving to a new place. So there is going to be a lot of hard work, moving around and re-jigging in the coming months, but it will worth it in the end.

Manchester Herbarium

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looking down the corridor

A lovely review of a visit to our herbarium from the blog of Tim Body: Manchester Herbarium. Tim is an MMU ecology student and his blog From here to ecology is well worth a read.

Buttercups at Cambridge

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The course I attended (Flowering Plant Families) is run by Cambridge University staff.  This is Dr Tim Upson introducing the course at the Botanic Garden, by the lake. We had just seen a grass snake and joked about how plants often get upstaged by animals!



Ranunculaceae is the Buttercup family, which contains many ornamentals.  Well known members are the buttercup (obvs), Delphinium, Aquilegia and Thalictrum.  The plants are mainly herbs, with a few climbers (Clematis).  It has a world wide distribution and plants in this family contain alkaloids – some are poisonous, like Aconitum.

The family name Ranunculaceae is pronounced ran-un-queue –lacey.


A buttercup pulled apart: this family is not characterised by the number of petals and sepals as they are variable.  Linking characters for Ranunculaceae: flower parts are free and not fused, and spirally arranged along the elongated receptacle. There are numerous stamens and carpels.

Buttercups are actinomorphic which means they are radially symmetrical, as opposed to zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical).  Think of a cup and saucer – the saucer is actinomorphic (symmetrical along 3 planes) but the cup is zygomorphic (symmetrical along 2 planes).

The following three illustrations of Hellebore varieties are taken from our cultivated collection. Despite names such as ‘Christmas Rose’, this plant is not in the rose family but the buttercup family.  The first is from ‘The Garden’ the monthly magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society, 1879. The second was from another horticultural magazine: Edwards’s Botanical Register by S.T. Edwards & J. Lindley, 1838, and the third illustration was taken from Paxton’s Flower Garden, 1850-53 by J. Paxton.


A herbarium sheet of Anemone nemorosa (wood anemone), from the buttercup family, collected by Lydia Becker in Whalley Wood, April 1864 for the British Botanical Competition. Lydia Becker was a suffragette and was born in Chadderton, Manchester.Image