Trees of the British Isles

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Hello! My name is Alyssa and I’m the placement student in the herbarium, I have been working here for this academic year as part of my degree. Ordinarily I am a Plant Science student at the University of Manchester, currently in my third year with my final year starting this September. As part of my degree, I get to spend my third year away from my studies at uni (not that far away in my case) in a work place applying knowledge and skills from the first two years of my degree. While at the herbarium I have produced an app for keying out common British trees.

Recently, I have noticed that a lot of people are disinterested in botany, and have no desire to learn about it. So I wanted to attempt to inspire people to learn more about the wonderful world of botany. And maybe, one day, become themselves a converted botany enthusiast! Hence my app… I realise that most of you will already be botanical enthusiasts, but the app might still teach you something new!

testing the app at a Big Saturday event

To make the app I used Bentham and Hooker’s Handbook of British Flora. George Bentham first published this key in 1858 with the aim to enable people with no prior botanical knowledge to “name the wild flowers they may gather on their country rambles”. It was Bentham’s most famous work, has been used by students for over a century, running into many editions. After Bentham’s death in 1884, it was edited by his younger colleague Joseph Dalton Hooker and became known as Bentham & Hooker. I have used the accompanying illustration book plus Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, published 1885 by Prof. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, for the photos in the app. Most common and native British trees are covered in the app, so much fun can be had tree hunting with the help of this very handy app!

The app is available on the Google Play store under ‘Trees of the British Isles’. It is also available for Apple and Windows, but you need to visit the web address and save the page as a bookmark on your homescreen, once accessed online once it will work as an offline app.

Trees in the Leo Grindon collection

If you could be helpful to me and fill in my questionnaire that would be fabulous! Thank you to you all! Remember, trees are fun.

The app can be accessed here, with a link to the questionnaire in it.

All bees have died…

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Art student Jade Alana Ashton was inspired by the specimens and space here at the herbarium and brought her stunning artwork back in to photograph them amongst the cabinets and museum objects.


Here’s what she says about her work:

Jade Alana Ashton, APOIDEA (2013)

Imagine yourself in a museum of the future where specimens of flora, fauna, botany, are frozen in time…

All bees have died…

No flowers… No pollen… No bees…

Text and phrases, particularly from children’s literature, is often a starting point for my work. However, my concerns for the environment, and its flora and fauna, are also themes I explore further; my work tells its own story, but starts from a line or two from another author’s narrative. This usually results in an installation, containing hand-built porcelain and mixed media pieces. Furthermore I deliver art workshops for schools, art galleries, and museums.


Megalithic Mallorca

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The University of Manchester has broken up for the Easter holidays and so it must be the right time of year again for the 1st year field course in Comparative and Adaptive Biology. This year the staff and students were even more enthusiastic than usual to escape the unseasonably cold snow flurries of Manchester and head for sunny Mallorca. We’ve been braving the mosquitoes in the shrubberies to study how plants cope with the challenges of Mediterranean living and to see some interesting examples of plant endemism.


Last year I blogged about one of our days on the seashore, so I think this time I shall go more terrestrial and share some images from a site which is one of the staff favourites.  Although there are other places to go and see Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) woodland, the Bronze Age talayotic site of Ses Paisses is pretty special. Excavated in the mid 20th century, the settlement is arranged around a central tower (or talaiot) and is now covered by a very nice woodland.

Under the shade of the oak trees we find black bryony (Tamus communis), butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and a hemi-parasitic plant Osyris alba which can produce it’s own sugars by photosynthesis but steals water and minerals from a host plant .


However, with all these rocks around there is always the chance that botanical lectures on the effects of light and shade can end up being disrupted by sudden acts of zoology….


Internship at the Herbarium.

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Hello, my name is Nicole and over the past couple of months I’ve been an intern at the Manchester Museum Herbarium. In September I’ll be going into my second year of my Neuroscience degree at the University of Manchester and I had decided to keep my summer busy and productive by gaining some valuable work experience. I can’t think of a Life Science which differs so much to Neuroscience than that of Botany, but I feel it is important to be open-minded in education and plant science is not a subject I neither have nor will encounter much due to the nature of my course. 

I have been working here in the Herbarium for about 6 weeks now, thus nearing the end of my internship. I’ll be sad to leave, for it has been a fun and interesting experience working here and I have met some lovely people. It has been fascinating to see how the museum operates behind closed doors – something I would not have known without the internship.

Photograph of glass plate negative of what is thought to be Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester.


Photograph of a glass plate negative, of a man (in old-fashioned clothing) stood next to a tree.

I’ve been helping both Rachel and Lindsey with photographing objects/specimens, cleaning and repairing specimen boxes, and putting specimens away. Primarily, I have been sorting through and documenting the British Lichen and Foreign Lichen collections onto the museum database. I have been recording the location of where each lichen specimen (if stated) has been found; usually converting town/county name to vice county number with the British lichens, and to country code for the foreign lichens. My geographical knowledge has improved considerably.

Clean and repaired boxes!

Lichens are organisms formed through a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a phototroph (an organism able to make its own food from sunlight) such as algae or cyanobacteria. Symbiosis is a mutual give-and-recieve relationship between two or more biological species. The fungus provides protection and shelter to the phototroph, which repays the favour by feeding nutrients to the fungus. I was surprised at how variable the lichens are in shape and size – from flat ‘plate-like’ discs to long fibrous hairs. Lichens are valuable to the environment as they help prevent desiccation, and are good indicators of air pollution.

British Lichen, Amygdalaria pelobotryon, found on Ben Loyal in Scotland.
Foreign Lichen, Alectoria jubata, found in Tyrol, Austria.

Not a waterproof coat in sight!

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Lecturing al fresco

Now there couldn’t be a finer way to listen to a lecture! These first-year undergraduate students from the University of Manchester are in Mallorca to learn about Mediterranean ecosystems and plant adaptations to the climate. On days like today it’s much easier to explain the challenges of the Mediterranean climate than on days when the rain is falling steadily. They also get to appreciate the view too; this view is out across the Bay of Pollensa where underneath the water there are large beds of seagrass called Posidonia oceanica or Neptune’s grass.

Shadowy underwater meadows

 Although underneath the waves, it not a seaweed and is actually a flowering plant. It can produce fruits which float on the ocean, but it also spreads very slowly by creeping rhizomes. A recent study published in the journal Plos One has shown that these clonal meadows of seagrass could be thousands of years old.

A washed up Posidonia oceanica rhizome

Growing at depths of about 1-45m (depending on water clarity) these seagrass beds are very important ecosystems. These meadows trap carbon dioxide and release oxygen in coastal waters through photosynthesis, provide energy at the bottom of the food chain and act as nursery grounds for many fish and invertebrates. The environmental importance of this ecosystem is reflected by its protection as a priority habitat by the legislation of the EU Habitat Directive and by the programs aimed at conserving it.

Sculpted mounds of debris

These meadows also have important effects on the seashore. Debris is washed-up from below the sea and collects on the beaches, sometimes forming great sculpted ‘cliffs’ of  plant material. These heaps of dead seagrass leaves and rhizomes are striking, but far more curious are the fibre balls which can also be found on some beaches. Wave action on the beach smashes up and wears away the tissue of the seagrass leaves, leaving only the leaf veins which get tangled up and moulded into these pebble shapes.

Fibre balls in the herbarium collection.
Dead leaves and fibre balls on the seashore

Which ever form the material ends up on the beach in, once there it helps to stabilize the shifting sands to build dunes, to retain water and to provide nutrients which allows plants to colonize the strandline.  Plants such as this lovely yellow-horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) which sadly isn’t in flower yet.

Glaucium flavum

Best go back to staring a that sunny view………..

Touring the herbarium with Manchester’s plant scientists

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Yesterday I welcomed a group of scientists from the University of Manchester to the herbarium. Some study flowering plants like tobacco and barley, while others work with ferns, mosses and algae. 

We discussed the ways that herbaria can be used, both to conduct scientific research and to teach people about plants. It’s nice to think how little the aims of the herbarium have changed over the years since the collections were first being put together.

Take our beautiful plant models for example:

In 1892, Frederick Wiess (the second Professor of Botany at the University of Manchester) valued the way that models could show the fine structure of a plant to a room full of people, saying that:  “there are models and there are models…..the carefully prepared models, as supplied by Brendel, are a lesson in themselves.” 

In the intervening years, there have been great changes both in the tools available to study plants and those to show them to an audience. But despite inventions such as Powerpoint and improvements in microscopy, these models still do the job that they were made for and are viewed by 1st year undergraduates learning about the variety of life.

To read more about models by Brendel, follow this link: