Manchester Botanists

Plant obsessions at Biddulph Grange

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Last week, Daniel Atherton and Leslie Hurst from the National Trust gave us an wonderful tour of the gardens of Biddulph Grange (see Campbell’s post on the Egyptian garden here).  Unfortunately, little information is available about the gardens as they were being created by the horticulturally-enthusiastic owners James and Maria Bateman (between 1840 and 1861). With the Head Gardener’s logbooks missing, the restoration of the garden has relied on other sources such as letters between Bateman, botanists and plant hunters, books logging out-going plants from specialist nurseries and descriptions from garden visitors.

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The Leo Grindon Cultivated plants collection is full of specimens from notable gardens as well as a host of newspaper cuttings, magazine prints, notes and letters. With such a wealth of information, progress has been slow in documenting this collection, and so it remains an exciting treasure-trove of little-explored gems. I wondered whether there would be any references to Bateman or Biddulph Grange in the collection ….but where to start?

James Bateman is famous for his beautifully illustrated volumes on orchids, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before I uncovered some articles which Leo Grindon thought interesting enough to add into his ‘general Orchid’ selection.

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This article from the Gardener’s Chronicle (Saturday, November 25th, 1871) is a biography of Bateman and his importance in the 19th century horticultural world. This quote caught my eye:

“Some of the effects, from a landscape gardener’s point of view, were strikingly beautiful, many quaint and grotesque. Had these latter been carried out by a person of less natural taste than Mr Bateman, they would have degenerated into the cockney style. In Mr Bateman’s case there was the less risk of this as, in addition to his own good taste and feeling for the appropriate, he was aided by Mr. E. W. Cooke, the eminent painter, and we may write, plant lover.”

….but I’m still not certain how complimentary this is! Another clipping touches on Bateman’s position in the debate between emerging scientific ideas and the Christian view of the creation of the earth. The geology gallery at Biddulph is a remarkable melding of Bateman’s religion with 19th century scientific discovery in stones and fossils (follow PalaeoManchester for more on this story).

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Then there are a few cuttings covering James Bateman’s lectures giving summaries of the information he shared. These cuttings are typical of Leo Grindon’s collection as he rarely recorded the source of his material, or the date of publication. Presumably he was so familiar with the style of the various magazines and papers which he subscribed to that he never saw the need to write these details down.

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These cuttings show that Leo Grindon was definitely following the work of James Bateman, but what of the gardens of Biddulph? For the next installment I think we shall have to move into another famous section of the garden, the Himalayan Glen, and delve into the herbarium’s Rhododendron folders to look for more clues.

To be continued……

Baking botanists in the Cala de Bocquer

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Yesterday saw a group of first-year undergraduates braving the baking Mediterranean sun for the first day trip of the Comparative and Adaptive Biology field course. The Bocquer Valley near the town of Pollenca is a great place to look for Mallorcan endemic ‘hedgehog’ plants Teucrium subspinosum and Astragalus balearicus. While the students investigated the distribution of these small spiny shrubs, the staff took the opportunity to do a little more plant hunting.

One beautiful plant we regularly see in flower is the Balearic cyclamen (Cyclamen balearicum). It has very marbled leaves and delicate white flowers and hides in the shade of the larger shrubs. We also find the leaves of the Mallorcan peony (Paeonia cambessedessii). We visit far too late to see it in flower, but we’ve never found fruit either, suggesting that these plants didn’t flower in February or March. Perhaps these are young plants, or perhaps this is an indication of the difficult environment in the valley. This peony is named for the French botanist Jacques Cambessedes (1799-1863) who studied the plants of the Balearic Islands in 1825 and published the account of his travels and his work on the flora in 1826 and 1827.

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One plant we’ve not spotted on our previous visits is the Dead-horse arum  (Helicodiceros muscivorus). Given that it was behind a tree, under a shrub and in the bottom of a drainage channel, it’s not too surprising that we’ve not found it before. This plant has striking arrow-shaped leaves (sagittate leaves) and a flower spike (spadix) enclosed in a sheath known as a spathe. This specimen had not yet opened, and the geometrically patterned spathe was still closed shut. I’m not sure that I was too disappointed as the plant attracts pollinating flies with heat and rotting carcass smells.

The mysterious Miss Wigglesworth

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by Jemma

 

For the past few days I have been digging through the Museum’s annual reports from the 19th-20th century. During my search one name kept cropping up: Miss Wigglesworth. She was in every report for a long period of time so I decided to look into her.

A stack of Manchester Museum annual reports
A stack of Manchester Museum annual reports

Grace Wigglesworth was a student at Owens College from 1900 (which became The Victoria University of Manchester in 1904 and would later become the University of Manchester). She graduated with a B.Sc (Hons) in Botany in 1903 and later gained a Master’s degree in palaeobotany.

The first mention of Miss Wigglesworth in the 1903-04 report
The first mention of Miss Wigglesworth in the 1903-04 report

In 1908 she was admitted as a fellow in the Linnean Society of London, which housed (and still does) the collection and personal library of the father of modern taxonomy Carl Linnaeus. In January 1911, Wigglesworth was appointed Assistant Keeper of botany at the Manchester Museum. Assistant Keepers were in charge of curating the collections. During her time as Keeper, Wigglesworth cared and organised the museum’s collections, worked on gallery displays and lectured at the University.

Wigglesworth used record cards to keep track of the Herbarium's collections. This box contains some of those cards.
Wigglesworth used record cards to keep track of the Herbarium’s collections. This box contains some of those cards.

Wigglesworth was the second female within the Herbarium staff and held the post for 33 years. Even after she retired in 1944, Wigglesworth continued to help around the Herbarium until the 1950’s.

Transferring from Newspaper – by Jamie Matley

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We come across plenty of specimens placed in newspapers – this one is from 1912! – Not all of them, like this one, are secured with tape. But, when they do have tape, we have to cut through the tape with either a knife (pictured) or a scalpel.

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Once the specimen has been cut free; we then transfer the specimen to a new sheet.

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Along with the specimen, we transfer all identifiable information to the new sheet.

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The finished product, the specimen on its new sheet, secured with tape, and with the same information from its previous (newspaper) sheet.

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

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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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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.

Breaking News on our Mystery Botanist

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Earlier this year we posted a photograph of a portrait we found in a box of paperwork at the back of the herbarium. It clearly shows a Victorian botanist – but which one? We speculated that it might look like Richard Buxton, who was a very interesting and impressive self-taught naturalist, but we now have another contender.
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Christine Walsh (one of our dedicated team of herbarium volunteers) came across a picture of Joseph Evans (1803 – 1874), botanist and herbal doctor from Boothstown. There’s a biography of him on this site, and I have to say, he looks very like our mystery man. What do you think?