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

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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

Lake Myvatn

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Myvatn is a shallow, eutrophic lake in north Iceland. The name means Midge Lake and the area is inundated with them every summer. Luckily, when we visited the midge swarms were of non-biting chironomid species (it’s very handy traveling with an entomologist!).


Besides being beautiful, formed from volcanic action and full of wildfowl, Lake Myvatn is also famous for balls of algae known as lake balls, marimo (Japanese) or kúluskítur (Icelandic). These are spherical colonies of filamentous algae (Aegagropila linnaei) which are thought to form when algae living on the rocks are torn off and are rolled around in the lake currents. Rolling helps to keep the ball clear of debris and mud so the colony stays velvety green.


Tantalising greeness on the lake bed
Tantalizing greenness on the lake bed – could they be algal balls?

Recently, however, lake balls have been vanishing from Lake Myvatn as sediments begin to silt over the the lake floor. They can be seen in aquaria in a few places in Iceland, I hope they will still survive in their famous lake home too.

Lake balls at the Natural History Museum of Kópavogur
Lake balls at the Natural History Museum of Kópavogur

Coral: Something Rich and Strange (and also in crochet!)

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Photo: Josh Nolan
Coral on display in the new exhibition

Tonight sees the opening of our latest exhibtion ‘Coral: Something Rich and Strange’ which shows beautiful natural history specimens of coral alongside amazing works of art.

At the front of the exhibition is a crochet coral reef; a satellite from the reef of the Institute for Figuring in California. The reef includes a few pieces created by curatorial staff and volunteers, who may not have fully mastered the art of crochet, but who can now make curly hyperbolic shapes. This reef will grow over the course of the exhibition (which runs until the 16th March 2014) and so there’s plenty of time to join in if you’re interested in promoting coral reef consevation or fancy trying your hand at crochet. The reef also features an area of coral bleaching.

Photo Josh Nolan
The Manchester Satellite Reef

Although reef-building corals are animals, they often have a partner – microscopic, single-celled algae known as zooxanthellae (specifically dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium). The coral povides protection and the zooxanthellae collect energy from the sun by photosynthesis to produce sugars. This sort of life-style is similar to that of the symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae in lichens.

From Wikipedia: Bleached branching coral
From Wikipedia: Bleached branching coral

Coral bleaching happens when a coral becomes stressed (e.g. through rising sea temperatures, pollution or high UV) and can expels the algae. As corals are mostly transparent, losing the brown-coloured symbiotic algae reveals the (often) white calcium carbonate structure. As the algae produce sugars which can feed the corals, this bleaching can quickly cause starvation making the corals suceptible to disease and causing the death of patches of the reef.

Seaweeds Online

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The Natural History Museum after dark
The Natural History Museum after dark

Recently I was lucky enough to go to the Natural History Museum in London for the launch of their Seaweed Collections Online. Jane Pottas and Jo Wilbraham have spent the last year collecting images and information from 14 different institutions aiming to make seaweed data from regional herbariums more accessible (see the RBGE write-up here).

Seaweed Collections Online front page
Seaweed Collections Online front page

The team selected aound 150 different species of seaweed from the c.650 species found around the UK. Species were selected for reasons such as their conservation status (rarity), if they provide an ecosystem service (such as an important habitat) or if their distribution is changing (perhaps through environmental change).

Peacocks tail
Padina pavonica
Green sponge ball
Codium bursa

   430 images of specimens of seaweeds which were collected between the 1840s and 1964 were photographed from the Manchester Museum collection for the project and are now available through the online catalogue.

Bonnemaison's Hook Weed
Bonnemaisonia hamifera
Laminaria digitata
Laminaria digitata


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.

Herbarium Films 2

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Here are some more short videos shot in the herbarium.

This first clip is taken in what we refer to as the British corridor, although in truth it has more boxes of European flowering plants than British (we do have another corridor referred to as the European corridor which contains exclusively European flowering plants).

In this second clip Leander shows where the Leo Grindon and Algae collections are stored, and shows some examples of interesting specimens from those collections.