Victorian Botanists

Advent Botany 2016 – Day : The beauty of snowflakes microscopic algae — Culham Research Group

Posted on

By Isabelle Charmantier Bicosoeca growing on AsterionellaAh, the snowflake: symbol of short winter days, crisp frosty mornings, Carol singing under the stars and the Christmas season. However, this is not a snowflake. It is a photograph of the mass development of the flagellate protozoan Bicosoeca on Asterionella. Asterionella is a genus of pennate freshwater diatoms,…

via Advent Botany 2016 – Day : The beauty of snowflakes microscopic algae — Culham Research Group

Advertisements

Rhododendrons of the J. D. Hooker Collection

Posted on Updated on

By Berglind Kristjansdottir

The Herbarium has a lot of specimens collected by Joseph Dalton Hooker (f. 1817, d. 1911). Most of them are from his expedition to India were he collected plants in and around the Himalayas.

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and his Exploration of Nepal and Sikkim

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker was born in Halesworth, Suffolk in 1817. He spent his childhood in Glasgow were he helped his father with his herbarium which nurtured his keen interest in plants. Later in his life he would become one of the key scientists of his age and the most important botanist of the nineteenth century.
Hooker was only 15 years old when he entered the Glasgow University to study medicine. There he met Charles Darwin, who became one of his closest friends, and Captain James Clark Ross. Ross was about to lead a British Association expedition to the Antarctic and Hooker was determined to join. His father helped his 22 year old son to get the position of assistant ship’s doctor and botanist. On 28 September 1839 Hooker sailed out of the Medway and didn’t return until four years later. During the trip he was able to botanize on three continents as the ship visited Madeira, the Cape of Good Hope, Tasmania, New Zealand, Australia, the Falkland Island and the Southern tip of South America. His discoveries led to the foundation for his authority on the geographical distribution of plants, which later would prove vital to Darwin and his theory of evolution.
When Hooker came back to England in 1841 he was determined to make a study of tropical botany to compare to the Antarctic and on 11 November 1847 he left for a two year plant hunting trip to Sikkim on behalf of Kew. He arrived at Darjeeling on 16 April 1848.  Hooker wanted to travel to Sikkim’s high mountain passes but to do that he needed permission from the Rajah. It took Hooker almost a year to get Sikkimese authorities to approve his application and on 27 October 1848 he was finally able to set out for Sikkim with his party of fifty-five men. The trip to the passes wasn’t easy. There were no proper roads to follow and they had to travel by foot. As winter approached the conditions deteriorated. The expedition got more and more dangerous and Hooker and his party had various complications on the way like imprisonment by the Dewan of Sikkim and lack of supplies and food.
The Himalayan expedition took Hooker three years and made him the first European to collect plants in the Himalaya. He collected a lot of important and special plants while he was there but the discovery and introduction into English gardens of the numerous and gorgeous Sikkim Rhododendron was certainly one of his greatest achievements. Out of forty-three species he collected thirty who were considered new to botanists, and most of the others were yet unknown to them.

Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya

Rhododendron grande           
In May 1848 Hooker first experienced the excitement of discovering a new rhododendron. He found the ivory-white-flowered Rhododendron grande (R. argenteum) at the top of Mt Sinchul south east of Darjeeling. In his book Himalayan Journals Hooker described this plant as a:

“…tree forty feet high, with magnificent leaves twelve to fifteen inches long, deep green, wrinkled above and silvery below, while the flowers are as large as those of R. Dalhousie and grow more in a cluster. I know nothing of the kind that exceeds in beauty the flowering branch of R. argenteum, with its wide spreading foliage and glorious mass of flowers” (Hooker, 2016).

Rhododendron falconeri        
Later in May when he was in Mt Tonglo he found Rhododendron falconeri which has reddish bark and beautiful bell-shaped yellow flowers. Hooker described it as:

“…in point of foliage the most superb of all the Himalayan species, with trunks thirty feet high, and branches bearing at their ends only leaves eighteen inches long: these are deep green above, and covered beneath with a rich brown down” (Hooker, 2016).

Rhododendron falconeri

Rhododendron campylocarpum        
In the Yangma valley at the Yangma Pass (16,168ft) he found the graceful Rhododendron campylocarpum. In the book Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya (1849-1851) Hooker described the plant as:

“A small bush, averaging six feet in height, rounded in form, of a bright cheerful green hue, and which, when loaded with its inflorescence of surpassing delicacy and grace, claims precedence over its more gaudy congeners, and has always been regarded by me as the most charming of the Sikkim Rhododendrons” (Hooker, 1849).

Rhododendron maddeni
Rhododendron maddeni is one of the “original” rhododendrons first introduced from the Himalaya by Hooker in the mid-1800s. It was named for Lt.-Col. E. Madden, a member of the Bengal Civil Service. In Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya Hooker wrote:

“I do myself the pleasure to name this truly superb plant in compliment to Major Madden of the Bengal Civil Service, a good and accomplished botanist, to whose learned memoirs on the plants of the temperate and tropical zones of North-west Himalaya, the reader may be referred for an excellent account of the vegetation of those regions. The same gentleman’s paper on the Coniferae of the north of India may be quoted as a model of its kind” (Hooker, 1849).

Rhododendron arboreum
Rhododendron arboreum is an evergreen shrub or small tree with a showy display of bright red flowers. It is found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Rhododendron arboreum is the national flower of Nepal and in India it is the state tree of Uttarakhand and state flower of Himachal Pradesh and Nagaland. R. arboreum was first of the Indian Rhododendrons to be discovered. In Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya it says:

“Towards the very close of the 18th century, namely in 1700, R. arboreum, the first of a new form and aspect of the genus, and peculiar to the lofty mountains of India Proper, was discovered by Captain Hardwicke, in the Sewalic chain of the Himalaya, while he was on a tour to Sireenagur. The species has since been found to have a very extended range” (Hooker, 1849).

 

References

Desmond, R. (1990). Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker Traveller and Plant Collector. Woodbridge,       Suffolk: The Antique Collectors’ Club.

Hooker, J. D. (1849). Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya. London: Reeve, Benham, and Reeve.

Hooker, J. D. (2016). Himalayan Journals (first published 1854). Oxon: Routledge.

Musgrave, T. Gardner, C & Musgrave, W. (1998). The Plant Hunters. London: Ward Lock.

 

Plant obsessions at Biddulph Grange

Posted on Updated on

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.

DSC_0539

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.

IMG_2521

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).

IMG_2525

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.

IMG_2524

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……

Transferring from Newspaper – by Jamie Matley

Posted on Updated on

jamie1     jamie2

 

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.

jamie3

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

jamie4     jamie5

jamie6

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

jamie7     jamie8

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

Breaking News on our Mystery Botanist

Posted on Updated on

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.
Richard Buxton

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?

Historic Manchester

Posted on Updated on

The Manchester Histories Festival is well underway, so I think it’s time for some historically-minded posts. Leo Grindon’s Manchester Flora was published in 1859 by William White of Bloomsbury and it is ‘A descriptive list of the plants growing wild within eighteen miles of Manchester with notices of the plants commonly cultivated in gardens’. The book encourages us to ‘consider the lilies of the field’.

 

 

 

 

Along with an introduction to botany, keys to the families of plants and descriptions of species, Grindon also tells us where to go and look for these plants. So, in 1859, Ringway was the place to go and see snowdrops. I wonder if there are plenty to be found around the airport this spring? 

 

Our copy also has an added extra tucked safely between its pages – a little bleeding heart flower (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, previously Dicentra specabilis). This plant became a popular addition to british gardens after 1846 when Robert Fortune brought it back from his travels through Japan (1812-1880). I wonder if the person who pressed it managed to identify it?

Safely stored?

Posted on Updated on

Following an enquiry, I’ve looked out some thought-provoking specimens this week. I spent a quite melancholy afternoon searching our database with plant names listed as extinct or extinct in the wild in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Here are a few of them:

Extinct in the wild

Bromus interruptus (interrupted brome) was an agricultural weed found in southern and eastern England, but it became extinct as agricultural practices changed. The species is thought to have originated in Britain in the 19th century, but it was no longer found growing wild by 1972. However, this species is counted as extinct in the wild as seeds were collected from the last population and were cultivated in botanic gardens. Subsequently it has been re-introduced to the english countryside in the hope that it can re-establish itself.

Extinct
Second and last known collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

This pretty red seaweed, however, is thought to be fully extinct. Vanvoorstia bennettiana (Bennett’s seaweed) has only been collected twice, once in 1855 and again 1886 from two different locations in and around Sydney Harbour. Despite extensive searches, this species seems to be extinct, perhaps because of disturbance and pollution of its habitat.

Extinct

 

Safely stored

Finally, this is Melicope cruciata (cross bearing pelea), a tree in the citrus family which only ever grew on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Rather poignantly, these seeds have been labelled and stored since their collection in 1895. This week, scientists from Russia have reported that the have successfully regenerated plants from 33,000 year-old seeds of Silene stenophylla which were found buried in the Siberian permafrost. However, I imagine that our cross-bearing pelea seeds have experienced much more variable conditions over their 117 year storage and are unlikely to still be viable.