Good wildlife spotting everyone!

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With everyone staying close to home, this year the wildlife spotting for the City Nature Challenge has been really urban. If you have more images taken over the weekend, you can still upload them now into iNaturalist and your sighting will be added into the count. Otherwise, it’s time to try and identify all those finds! Let’s see how many we can push to be research grade records.

I suspect we’ve had far more pavement weeds this year than we did last year. Certainly, last year the top three organisms recorded where blackbirds, harlequin ladybirds and wood pigeons. So far this year, our top three are cuckooflowers, Herb Robert and dandelions. Of course, although the weekend of wildlife spotting is over, we’ve now got time to make sure as many records as possible are properly identified, so that list could change.

Happily, although everyone was limited to gardens and short walks, the weather was much kinder than last year allowing us to really enjoy our local wildlife. There have been plenty of bee and butterfly garden visitors and the occasional bird to watch as well as all the plants. If you have enjoyed a weekend of wildlife recording, check out Greater Manchester’s Local Record’s Centre so that you can continue putting nature on the map. There’s also advice from the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside on how to improve your garden for wildlife. Click here to apply for a free downloadable booklet from the My Wild City Manchetser project.

The City Nature Challenge weekend has been popular across the country with over 4,000 people taking part and just under 60,000 observations made. If know of a city or region that would want to take part next year, then get in touch with the organisers. The City Nature Challenge was invented and is managed by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences:

City Nature Challenge 2020 in lockdown

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Last year Greater Manchester competed in the City Nature Challenge for the first time. City Nature Challenge was started by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences in 2016, and it has grown into a world-wide urban nature event. The challenge aims to get people around the world involved in wildlife recording and learning about nature in their local patch. It uses the wildlife app iNaturalist, which is great for people .

This year, however, with  the world on lockdown things are a little different. Rather as a challenge with competing cities, this year is a celebration of the nature that we have living all around us.  Spending time with nature has been shown to help our mental health, so this weekend, why not join us for the #CityNatureChallenge? Follow social distancing guidelines and try some birdwatching from the windows, spot the spiders in the cupboards, identify the insects visiting the garden or windowboxes, and share the plants you see in your local streets. You can also go online to help identify other people’s finds.

You might just find yourself catching the wildlife recording bug!


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A trip to the Paris herbarium in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris.


I was given a guided tour of the Paris herbarium by Marc Jeanson: 8 million specimens, fully imaged and sorted into APG III order. Citizen science project Les Herbonautes encourages volunteers to catalogue the collection online photos.


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Grandes Serres (Greenhouses) contain drought tolerant and tropical plants:


A menagerie:



Systematic beds, alpine garden and historic trees


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Gallery of Evolution


Gallery of Botany:




Rhododendrons of the J. D. Hooker Collection

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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).



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

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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.


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.


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).


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.


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……

Advent Botany 2015 – Day 12: Anyone can grow paperwhites but their taxonomy is a different story

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By Dawn Bazely Paperwhites, Narcissus papyraceus, are one of the most fragrant Narcissus species. Although they’re native to the Mediterranean region, the bulbs have become naturalized in other reg…

Source: Advent Botany 2015 – Day 12: Anyone can grow paperwhites but their taxonomy is a different story

Specimen of the day – Atropa belladonna

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by Jemma

Atropa belladonna, commonly called deadly nightshade, is a herbaceous perennial (which means it lives for over 2 years and its stems die down back to the soil level at the end of the growing season) in the Solanceae family. This flowering plant produces shiny black berries that are extremely toxic. There is also a second version, Atropa belladonna var. lutea, which produces pale-yellow fruit rather than the iconic black berries.

Belladonna flowers and berries. Image adapted from: and
Belladonna flowers and berries. Image adapted from: and


Atropa belladonna is well known for being one of the most toxic plants in the Eastern Hemisphere. All parts of the plant contain toxic tropane alkaloids that target the nervous system, causing increased heart rate and inhibited movement of skeletal muscle. The symptoms of belladonna poisoning are often slow to appear and include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, tachycardia (increased heart rate), headache, hallucinations and delirium. The symptoms often last for several days, before coma and convulsions occur, followed by death. Belladonna poisoning is caused by disruptions in the regulation of involuntary activities (such as heart rate) due to the tropane alkaloids.

A Brendel model showing the fruit of a belladonna plant.
A Brendel model showing the fruit of a belladonna plant.

History of belladonna

In the middle ages, belladonna was sometimes used to make Dwale, which was an early form of herbal anaesthetic. Other ingredients in this early anaesthetic included bile, hemlock, lettuce, opium and vinegar. In addition to its use as an anaesthetic, belladonna was said to be one of the key ingredients, along with hemlock and wolfsbane, in the witches flying ointment. This magic potion supposedly allowed witches to fly on their brooms.

Materia Medica jar containing belladonna leaves.
Materia Medica jar containing belladonna leaves.

For centuries, small doses of belladonna have been used as a pain reliever, muscle relaxer and anti-inflammatory. Eye drops made from the plant were also used cosmetically as a method for dilating the pupils, which was considered attractive and seductive in women. To combat the toxicity of the plant, morphine from the opium poppy Papaver somniferum was used. The two plants act against each other, and were used to produce the ‘twilight sleep’. This was a dreamlike state that was utilised as a way to deaden pains and consciousness during labour. Queen Victoria famously used the ‘twilight sleep’ during childbirth. However, despite their pain relief, the drugs could affect the nervous system of the baby, resulting in a poor ability to breathe. Belladonna is still used by pharmaceutical industries today as well as in various homeopathic medicines.

Use as a poison

The most famous use for belladonna throughout history was its use as a poison. In ancient Rome, the Emperor Augustus (who defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra) was rumoured to have been poisoned by his wife Livia in 14 AD. This resulted in her son Tiberius from a previous marriage to become the next Emperor. Another Roman Emperor supposedly murdered by belladonna was the Emperor Claudius, who was said to be killed by the poisoner Locusta on the orders of his wife Agrippina the Younger. King Macbeth of Scotland, whilst still one of the lieutenants of King Duncan I, used belladonna during a truce in order to stop the troops of the invading Harold Harefoot, who was king of England. Agatha Christie also featured belladonna in a number of her works, including The Caribbean Mystery and The Big Four.

Herbarium sheet depicting belladonna leaves.
Herbarium sheet depicting belladonna leaves.

Visiting Liverpool World Museum

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Beautifully conserved illustrations in the Liverpool herbarium collections

This time last week we travelled over to Liverpool to catch up with colleagues who work in herbaria in the North West of the UK. It was lovely to have the opportunity to get together and discuss what we’re all doing (projects, aquisitions and the day to day) and it also meant that we got to have a good look round the Liverpool herbarium. With our storage looking like this:

Manchester’s General Flowering Plant Collection


………….Liverpool’s was a vision of order and function. Lindsey and I have got our eye on a few improvements to try out!

A green solander box! Home from home!


Lay-away cabinet with big, clear labels
Love these!

We also had a tour of the museum’s City Wildflower Meadow by Donna Young, Curator of Herbarium, . In prime postition right at the main entrance, the meadow is now in it’s second year and must have been a blaze of colour in midsummer. It had largely run to seed when we visited, but there were still a few flowers (such as yellow toadflax, the odd scabious flower and some dark mullein) making the most of the last days of summer. Donna explained that this year the yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) had really started to settle in and as it parasitises the more vigorous plants like grasses it will help to maintain the diversity of the meadow in future. We’ll have to come see it in all it’s glory next year!

Liverpool World Museum’s City Wildflower Meadow

Akureyri Botanic Garden

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The Akureyri Botanic Garden is one of the most northerly in the world and the oldest in Iceland. Along with displays of Icelandic and arctic plants, it has an amazing array of plant species in bloom in August. I wish I could grow delphiniums like these!

Beautiful delphiniums and monkhoods with snow on hills in the distance
Beautiful delphiniums and monkhoods with snow on the hills in the distance

The garden is beautifully laid out and card for with very detailed labels describing the characteristics of the plant families on show.