Month: February 2015

a Statue of Richard Spruce, botanist and explorer

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I was surprised and delighted to find that Richard Spruce has a statue in Banos, Ecuador.  I found out through twitter.  Spruce was the first European to explore and collect plants in the Amazon basin and Andes and the herbarium at the Manchester Museum has thousands of his liverwort specimens.  Many of them are types.  I tweeted this last week:

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and was delighted to receive a reply from Annaliese (@GoLiveJourney) who said:  “Wow! Richard Spruce was an ancestor of mine; I recently went to the Amazon in search of statue of him. Hooked on botany now!”

We contacted her and she sent us these pictures:

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The statue is in Rio Verde, Banos, Ecuador.  I found another article on it – it was installed in 2006.  In this article, there is mention of the unveiling ceremony of the bust. The participants spent the afternoon on leisure walks to some of the localities visited by Spruce, and “a highlight was finding the rare liverwort Myriocolea irrorata Spruce, known only from the River Topo and long considered extinct. Spruce was particularly attracted to this species, which he considered “perhaps the most interesting bryophyte that I have every found … and the only agreeable souvenir I have preserved of this river” (Spruce 1908, Notes of a botanist on the Amazon and the Andes, vol. 2, p. 167).”

We are very proud to have four specimens of Myriocolea irrorata collected by Spruce from Ecuador.  (Photos to follow after the building work in the herbarium is over)

Anneliese has a lovely blog, and we all think twitter is a great way of sharing knowledge!

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Amazonian Liverworts

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The Manchester Museum Herbarium has a collection of around three-quarters of a million specimens, from all over the world.  Recently, hundreds of specimens from the Museum’s liverwort collection from the Amazon, Brazil have been returned from a research loan to Gottingen University.  I have been updating the Museum database with name changes and adding these high quality images that the researchers took. It is also the first time that any of the Museum’s botanical specimens have been barcoded.  We have plans to barcode and photograph some of the algae collection soon.

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These liverwort specimens were mostly collected by Richard Spruce, a Yorkshire botanist who was one of the first to collect plant specimens from the Amazon and Andes.  A lot of his specimens are type specimens (the particular specimen or group of specimens to which a scientific name is formally attached). Type specimens are often requested on loan by other institutions so the features of the type specimen can be compared with the researcher’s own plant material.  The Museum has a large number of liverwort types, and because of this the liverworts frequently get sent out on loan.

Liverworts are a small moss-like plant. Below: a type specimen

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A history of cotton

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by Jemma

 

So after my blog on the opium poppy (https://herbologymanchester.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/powerful-poppies/) I have decided to write another; this time on Gossypium barbadense.

Gossypium barbadense seeds from the Materia Medica.
Gossypium barbadense seeds from the Materia Medica.

 

G. barbadense is a small, tropical tree that produces cotton. The cotton fibres grow in a protective capsule, called a boll, around the seeds to increase seed dispersion. These fibres can be collected and spun into yarn or thread, which then have a variety of uses. These include making textiles, coffee filters and fishing nets. Cotton was even used in the 1890s in the manufacture of fire hoses.

A cotton boll encasing Gossypium barbadense seeds.
A cotton boll encasing the plant’s seeds.

Cotton has been used by humans for at least 7,000 years.  Archaelogists have found signs of G. barbadense domestication (based on cotton bolls found) from around 4,400 BC. It is believed that cotton spread throughout India between 2,000-1,000 BC. Following his invasion into India during 327–325 BC, the troops of Alexander the Great began to wear cotton clothes because they were more comfortable than the alternative woollen ones.

 

By the medieval period, cotton had spread to northern Europe and was imported in large quantities. It was extremely popular as it was a cheaper alternative to silk but could easily be imprinted on to make patterned textiles. At first there was a common misconception that cotton was produced by plant-borne sheep due to its woolly appearance. However, G. barbardense was soon cultivated in Europe and this misunderstanding corrected. After the introduction of inventions like the spinning jenny in the 1770s, cotton manufacture soared in Europe. The Midlands in England quickly became one of the most profitable production centres for cotton.

Image from the Leo Grindon collection. Inscription: Cotton from India: A Cotton convoy proceeding from Rewah towards to Ganges – night encampment under a Banyan tree
Image from the Leo Grindon collection.
Inscription: Cotton from India: A Cotton convoy proceeding from Rewah towards to Ganges – night encampment under a Banyan tree

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, textiles (particularly cotton) became their primary export. During this time, numerous inventions helped to dramatically increase cotton production. These included (but not limited to) Paul and Wyatt’s flyer-and-bobbin system for drawing cotton, Hargreaves’ spinning jenny and Crompton’s spinning mule. The invention of Whitney’s cotton gin for efficiently separating cotton fibres from the seeds reduced the time and cost of production, leading to cotton becoming one of the most widely used textile in the world. From the end of the 18th century onwards, Manchester became known as “Cottonopolis” due to its domination of the cotton trade.

Spun cotton thread
Spun cotton thread

The cotton trade continued to grow throughout the early 19th century and Britain had become one of the primary exporters. British factories imported vast quantities of fibres from India to produce cotton, but by the 1840s India could no longer supply the ever growing demand. British traders then instead turned to plantations in the United States, who quickly became one of Britain’s prominent suppliers. By the mid-19th century, cotton cultivation became one of the main occupations of slaves in the southern states of America.

 

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Union states blockaded the Southern ports so cotton export dwindled. This led to Britain once again needing a new source of the fibre; turning this time to Egypt. Egyptian cotton has a much higher thread count and is today viewed as a luxury brand of cotton. At the time the Egyptian government invested heavily in the trade and took large loans from European bankers to finance their fledgling cotton plantations. However, the boom in Egyptian cotton was short-lived. After the end of the America Civil War, traders abandoned Egyptian cotton in favour of the cheaper cotton supplied by the Americans. This crippled Egypt’s economy to the point that it declared bankruptcy in 1876.

 

The cotton industry in Britain reached its peak in 1912 when over 8 billion yards of cloth was produced. However, there was soon a drastic decline in trade with the onset of World War I. During the war, cotton could not easily be exported and other countries soon began developing their own industry. One such country was Japan who, by 1933, replaced Britain as the largest cotton manufacturer. The interwar period then completely destroyed Britain’s declining cotton industry. During this time over 345,000 workers became unemployed and more than 800 mills closed. Britain had become a net importer of cotton by 1958, rather than an exporter, and its remaining mills struggled to remain open. For the next few decades Britain’s cotton industry floundered and a mill closed approximately once a week. By the 1980s, Britain’s textile industry had all but disappeared.

 

The demand for cotton has doubled since the 1980s and today’s production occurs in lower-wage areas because production is cheaper. China is now the main producer of cotton, closely followed by America and India.

Cotton wool extracted from Gossypium barbadense.
A jar in the Materia Medica containing cotton wool

The Whitworth welcomes a Cultural Park Keeper!

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We’re looking forward to falling in love again at the Whitworth Art Gallery opening and beyond that we’re looking forward to working with Francine, the Cultural Park Keeper. Best wishes for the week ahead to all our colleagues in the art gallery!

Gallery in the Park

Francine with Patrick Osborn, the Gallery’s new Landscape and Sustainability Technician. Francine with Patrick Osborn, the Gallery’s new Landscape and Sustainability Technician.

So what is a Cultural Park-Keeper? 
Now, that is a good question and the next three years (thanks to funding from Esmee Fairbairn Foundation) gives us the opportunity to find out. 
My name is Francine Hayfron and last summer as I came across the job advertisement for this post, my heart literally skipped a beat! 
For the past few years I had been working for an Arts & Wellbeing charitable organisation based in Salford that would use artistic mediums including horticulture, to help people that are experiencing emotional difficulties and those that feel isolated or excluded from their communities due to a decline in their mental health.  It was here that I learnt to really appreciate how engaging with the outdoors can have an impact and help to improve a person’s mental health.  Job opportunities like this rarely present…

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Beautiful Botany now starring on @VisitMM twitter

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We challenged our inventive Visitor Team staff to find the beautiful botany on the galleries at Manchester Museum and share it on twitter. Here are a few highlights!

 

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Pretty good, eh? I wonder what they’ll spot next?