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Sticks and bones: Tree study to help orthopaedic surgeons

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As part of  the Manchester Museum’s Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Scientist programme of events,  all the staff  in the herbarium were recently trained to take museum objects connected with Charles Darwin out to community groups.   During the training we were discussing what it meant to be a scientist, and how it was not necessarily about having the all answers but more about asking the right questions.

I was reminded of that discussion today when, looking at the University of Manchester website, an article about a new tree study caught my eye.  The study, being undertaken at the University by Dr Roland Ennos, is looking at why tree branches buckle or split, rather than break cleanly, and how this could help orthopaedic surgeons do a better repair job on children’s broken bones.

What I found particularly interesting is how Dr Ennos came up with the idea for the study.  He said: “I was walking through our local wood and breaking twigs off trees and wondering why they were breaking in these two particular ways. I remembered how difficult it was to break branches for firewood as a cub scout – you can’t break fresh branches, you need to find dead wood.”

It’s all about the questions!

Finally, here’s Dr Ennos singing the praises of trees: 

“…wood is a marvelous material, the best in the world, better than steel or plastic. It is stiff, strong and tough, all combined, and that’s very rare in a material. Steel is stronger but it’s heavier and both that and plastic take a lot of energy to make, which is important when we are facing climate change.

“We ought to return to an age of wood, in my opinion. We have a feel for wood that goes back to our early ancestors, when we used to cut branches off trees to make into spears and other tools. Understanding precisely how it works should help us design the tools of the future.”

Read the full article here.

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Specimen of the Day: 15/12/2009 – New Zealand Christmas Tree

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Metrosideros excelsa

Keeping with the Christmas theme, todays specimens are seeds from Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa/Metrosideros tomentosa) aka. the New Zealand Christmas Tree.

Brilliant crimson flowers cover this tree between November and January, peaking in mid to late December (summertime  in the southern hemisphere).  In New Zealand the native Pōhutukawa is under threat by the introduced common bushtail possum which strips the tree of its leaves.  The possum was introduced to New Zealand in the 1800s to establish a fur industry but it has now become a major pest.

These seeds are one of  many specimens collected in New Zealand by Miss Jessie Heywood (1852-1947).  Jessie regularly sent packages of specimens from New Zealand to the Manchester Museum.   As Jessie is one of my favourite collectors I’ll devote separate post to her story later on.

Specimen of the Day: 14/12/2009 – Mistletoe

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Brendel Plant Model of Mistletoe (male)
Brendel Plant Model of Mistletoe (female)

We are getting all Christmassy with today’s Specimen of the Day.

These models of  Mistletoe were made in Germany by the model makers R Brendel and Co.  They came to the Manchester Museum in 1917 when we acquired the herbarium of Charles Bailey.  The models are made of wood, wire and paper mache.

Specimen of the Day: 11/12/2009 – Black Spleenwort

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Manchester Museum Specimen collected by Robert Lloyd Praegar

On this day in 1892 Robert Lloyd Praegar collected this specimen of Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum var. acutum).  Praegar was an extraordinary man and one of my all time botanical heroes.  He practically surveyed the whole of Ireland single handedly at weekends.  I didn’t know we had any Praegar specimens in the collection at all.  So I was delighted to find this one.

Specimen of the Day: 10/12/2009 – Azorella lycopoioides

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Manchester Museum specimen of Azorella lycopodioides collected by Eleanor Vallentin
Azorella lycopodioides in the Manchester Museum collection

On this day in 1909 (exactly 100 years ago) Eleanor Vallentin collected this specimen of Azorella lycopoioides in the Falkland Islands.  Find out more about Falkland Island plants here

Daisy Letters

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Daisy Specimen from the Leo Grindon Collection

One of our volunteers, Priscilla, found this interesting daisy specimen in the Leo Grindon collection of cultivated plants.  It contains two letters from children who have written to him describing their interesting daisies:

“Board School, Waterhead, Oldham, 1 May 1896

Dear Sir, I send you a curious Daisy which my father found in the fields.  My teacher says you like wild flowers and will perhaps tell me about it some day in the City News.

I am respectfully yours, Rebecca Hershaw, Standard 5”

“Brookfield, Chorlton cum Hardy, 27th April

Dear Mr Grindon, I found this beautiful little daisy in our paddock today.  Mother said perhaps you would like to have it, as it seems so uncommon.  I hope it won’t be dead when you get it.

I am your little friend, Una Lucas

The shape as you see it, is exactly as I found it.  It is not crushed by the box.”

The specimen also contains an illustration from William Curtis’s Flora Londinensis, 1777-1789

Lydia Becker mystery

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We have a bit of a mystery here in the Herbarium and were wondering if anybody out there can help us?

Many of you may have heard of a lady called Lydia Ernestine Becker (1827-1890).  She was born in Manchester and became a famous suffragette. She is best remembered for founding and publishing the Women’s Suffrage Journal between 1870 and 1890.  However,  most people don’t  know that Becker was also a botanist and astronomer: in 1862 she was awarded a gold medal by the Horticultural Society of South Kensington, and in 1864 she published a small volume entitled Botany for Novices.

In the Herbarium we have some specimens that have been stamped  ‘Ex herb J Lydia Becker’ which denotes that they once belonged to the herbarium of J Lydia Becker.  The accession number (Kk398) indicates that the specimens came to the Manchester Museum from a collection belonging to Henry Hyde, donated in 1909.

What we are trying to find out is why there is a ‘J’ prefixing the Lydia Becker?  The dates and localities of when and where the specimens were collected fit in with them being collected by Lydia Ernestine Becker but why the ‘J’?

Also, does anybody know anymore about the British Botanical Competition, 1864, which is printed on the labels?

Finally, Henry Hyde.  Does anyone know anything about him?  On page 267 of the Whitelegge obituary in an earlier post, it states that Whitelegge had advanced Botany lessons from a Mr H Hyde from Manchester – my guess it is the same man.

Any help, suggestions or clues gratefully recieved…