Manchester

BBC News

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A BBC report on Herbarium specimens of orchids used in a climate change study.

Here’s one of our early spider orchids (Ophrys spegodes) at the Manchester Museum Herbarium.  It’s from Gillingham, Kent, collected in 1892 by Dr G.A.O. St Brody.  He writes a note on the paper: “I know of no other habitat – it is a rare orchid in Kent”

Delighted to see Herbarium specimens in the news:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11377192

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Unusual Trees to Look Out for (7)

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Cordyline australis, Cabbage Palm 178/43 

 Meaning: Club-like (roots), southern

 A native of New Zealand, where it’s usually called Ti rakau or Ti kouka in the Maori language.  It can grow up to 15 m, starting on a single stem, but later branching after flowering into several more, each branch producing a flowering stem.  It is a monocoyledon, and each stem grows from a single central bud.

 The tree has a high carbohydrate content and was long used as a food source by the Maori.  The sword-shaped leaves, the trunk and the root material were also valuable sources of fibre for making into clothing and footwear.  The juice of the tree has antibacterial properties, and the tree is said to be a potential source of ethanol.

 It is widely planted as an ornamental tree, particularly because it tolerates cold weather well; this has earned it other names like “Torbay Palm” and “Manx Palm”.  The subspecies atropupurea and other colour variants are much in demand for gardens.  Incidentally, and just to confuse us, the name “Cabbage Palm” is also used to refer to some other species, such as the palmettos.

 The local trees of this species have taken a bit of a beating in this year’s snows, unfortunately.  This photo, however, shows the tree in New Zealand:

  

Curator of Mineralogy – Dr. David Green’s palm, grown from seed, winter 2009-10, Manchester

 

Unfortunately, since 1987, the Cordylines in New Zealand have been affected by a pathogen, Phytoplasma australiense, and suffer from a disease called “Sudden Decline”.  It usually causes almost total defoliation in between 2 and 12 months.

 C. atropupurea after the 2009-2010 snows in Manchester…

 

…and another, C. australis.

    

Grindon Herbarium sheet from C. australis.

 -Daniel King

Unusual Trees to Look Out for (4)

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Pterocarya fraxinifolia, Caucasian Wingnut Tree, 156/003

 

Meaning: winged-nut/leaves-like-an-ash-tree.

The Caucasian Wingnut tree in Beech Road Park, Chorlton, Manchester, is a particularly fine example of this specimen tree, which was sometimes planted in our Victorian and Edwardian parks.  It is occasionally characteristic of the trunk of this species to divide into two main branches not far off the ground.  It belongs to the walnut family (Juglandaceae) and is native to the eastern Caucasus, northern Iran and eastern Turkey.  In its native habitat it can reach nearly 100 feet in height, but in northern climates it reaches about 80 feet, with a branch spread of 70 feet.  Because of its nearly cubic proportions and because it is relatively fast-growing, it is prized as a shade tree. In a good year, the tree in late summer or early autumn is a delightful and strikingly decorative sight, festooned with its long, pale-green strings of seeds.

BBC Plant finder: “This superb, very large tree is rarely seen in the UK due to its enormous size: there are few gardens big enough to accommodate one. However, there are two excellent specimens in Cambridge and Sheffield Botanic Gardens that show how striking this plant can be. The tree has green leaves that can grow to over 60cm (2ft) long and that turn butter-yellow in autumn. In the summer, it produces eyecatching chains of green catkins that can grow up to 60cm (2ft) long. In its native Iran, it is often found growing by rivers, so its favoured position is in a moist, almost boggy soil where it can also get plenty of light.”

Sheets from the Grindon Herbarium

-Daniel King

Manchester Cryptogamic Society

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We have been having a bit of a spring clean in the Herbarium recently and, whilst sorting through some old reprints, I found two rather dog eared books.  On closer inpection I was excited to discover they were the minute books from the Manchester Cryptogamic Society.  Cryptogams are plants that reproduce by spores, the commonest groups being lichens, mosses, ferns and algae.
Minute books dating from 1878-1890, 1891-1896

I’ve transcribed the first few pages of the book detailing the society’s first meeting:

Manchester Cryptogamic Society

Lower Mosley St School

November 4th 1878

Meeting of Cryptogamic botanists for the purpose of carrying out some suggestions recently made and further formulated at the annual service of the Lower Mosley St. Natural History Society by the cryptogamic botanists present, having reference to the establishment of a society for the especial study of cryptogamic plants. Mr James Cash having been duly elected as chairman.

  1. It was proposed by Mr Thos. Brittain and seconded by Mr James Neild of Oldham that the title of the aforementioned society be the Manchester Cryptogamic Society. – carried unanimously
  2. Proposed by Mr Sunderland of Ashton andseconded by Mr Neild that a subscription of 2 shillings per year be contributed by each member of the society in accordance with the rule which regulates the membership of the Natural History Society., and which said contributions are applied in defraying incidental expenses of meeting and purchasing books on Natural History for the use of members of both these societies. – carried unanimously
  3. Proposed by Thos. Rogers and seconded by Thos Brittain that Mr John Whitehead be elected president of the society. – carried unanimously
  4. Proposed by Mr James Cash and seconded by Charles Weld that Thomas Rogers be elected as secretary. – carried unanimously
  5. Proposed by John Whitehead and seconded by Thos Rogers that W H Pearson and Thos. Brittain be elected as vice president. – carried unanimously
  6. Proposed by Peter Cunliffe of Handforth and seconded by John Whitehead that Mr Cash, Mr Hyde, and Mr Weld be elected as a committee in conjunction with the foregoing officers as managing committee for the next twelve months subject to re-election. – carried unanimously
  7. Proposed by Mr Neild and seconded by Mr Cash that the secretary be elected as treasurer. – carried unanimously
  8. Proposed and seconded that the meeting of the Society be held in the library of the L.Mosely St. Natural History on the second Monday in each month at 7.30. – Carried unanimously

The meeting which carried the foregoing resolutions was well attended and about 20 members joined the society whose name will be entered in subscription list at the end of this book.  The following paragraph is cut from the Manchester Guardian Nov 5th.

Page 3 of minute book showing report in Manchester Guardian, Nov 5th1878

The books are full of the minutes of the of the society’s meeting together with many newspaper clipping reporting the meetings in the Manchester Guardian.  As well as being a keen amateur botanist,  James Cash, the society’s first Chariman, was also a journalist for the Manchester Guardian, this may or may not have something to do with the meetings being reported so frequetly in that publication.

The subscription lists at the back of the books are a great resource for the history of Manchester botanists.  Not only does it give the names and addresses of the key botanists working in Manchester at that time but it also shows how closely they knew each other and that they regualrly met to discuss and share their knowledge and passion for botany.

Flower Power

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Coltsfoot shouldering the tarmac aside at the derelict Middlewood Locks, between Manchester and Salford

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” The City’s gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Written by Horace Smith in the early nineteenth century in competition with the better known short verse by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ozymandias is another name for Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt.

Microphotographs

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£20 Bank Note issued in Manchester 21 Jan 1858. John B Dancer No.51

Whilst cataloging some of the large collection of microscope slides in the herbarium I came across some slides with intriguing labels.  One was labelled ‘The Moon”, another “Nelson Meditating His Prayer before the Battle of  Trafalgar” and another  “£20 Bank Note” – not the kind of thing we normally come across in the botany stores.  I immediately set about viewing the slides under a microscope and was amazed to actually pictures of Nelson, the moon and a bank note.  In the corner of the slides was the initial J.B.D.

The Moon, photographed from nature, March 12 1869

After a few minutes on Google, I discovered that these slides were made by the 19th Century Manchester instrument maker and inventor of microphotography, John Benjamin Dancer.  Dancer’s first example of microphotography was produced in 1839 and they soon became popular with microscopists.

“Dancer did not have any mass production method for turning out his micro-photograph slides and though it must have been very time consuming he is reported as having made many thousands. The method employed was explained by Mr.J.F.Stirling writing in Watsons Microscope Record No.45, Oct.1938, p.16. A glass negative of the photograph to be reduced was placed in a lantern illuminated by a flame. The image of the photograph was projected through a microscope objective mounted horizontally on to the sensitized collodion film supported on a glass sheet. Dancer speeded up production slightly by duplicating the contraption with two lanterns placed back to back with one illuminating flame in the space between the two lanterns, the whole assembly being covered over with a canvas tent to keep out the light. The exceedingly small piece of collodion film containing the positive microphotograph image was mounted in balsam beneath a cover glass on a standard 3 x 1 slide.” – The Microphotograph Slides Of John B. Dancer and Richard Suter by Roy Winsby

NELSON, Meditating his Prayer before the battle of Trafalgar. Painted by Lucy, Engraved by Sharpe. John B Dancer No.49

The practice of mounting microphotographs eventually became seen as frivolous by serious microsopists and their popularity waned.  However, during the Franco-Prussian War the benefits  for smuggling information on microphotographs meant that the technology developed by Dancer was given a new and very practical application.

Here is a list of Dancer’s Microphotographs.

Thanks to David Green for taking the photos of the slides.