Charles Bailey

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:

Specimen of the Day:13/5/2010 – Quercus robur

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It seems a long time since we have posted a Specimen of the Day, to rectify that here is an old, oak tree specimen.   It was collected on 17th May 1894 by Charles Bailey.  The tree that the specimen was taken from was at No Man’s Acre near Much Marcle in S. E. Herefordshire.  Oak trees are famous for their longevity and may live for up to 800 years or more, so maybe it is also an old specimen from an old oak tree.  I wonder if the tree is still surviving there today?

Oak trees in Britain could be facing a difficult and uncertain future as it has been reported in the press recently that they are threatened by a deadly disease that has been called Acute Oak Decline.  AOD has been likened to Dutch Elm disease which killed millions of trees in the UK in the 1970’s and 80’s.  AOD is a bacterial infection that can kill a tree in just a few years.  Infected trees ‘bleed’ a dark fluid from cracks in the bark which then runs down the trunk.  The Forestry Commission has a good website with more information and pictures to help you identify and report cases of AOD here.

Opportunist species

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No-one enjoys traffic jams, that would be like looking forward to going to the dentist or hoping for higher taxes. Yet I found myself, earlier this week, supplicant before the great Gods of Traffic, asking for a jam… just a small one… in a particular place on the way to the University! Why this strangely aberrant behaviour? Well, this is a herbology blog and I wanted to get a close look at an unusual botanical success story.

In the warm spring sunshine it is easy to forget that three months ago Britain was in the grip of the coldest winter for more than a decade. Temperatures plummeted to -18 C in rural Cheshire, the University was closed for several days, and the landscape was blanketed in thick snow. Road salt was in heavy demand, and its use was concentrated on the motorways that the politicians insist oil the wheels of industry.

Three months later in the warm spring sunshine, swathes of starry white flowers have erupted along mile after mile of the M62 motorway. The story is repeated on many other motorways across the country. In some places there is almost a monoculture: white flowers stretch as far as the horizon.

Danish scurvy grass flowering on the central reservation of the M62 on the way to Manchester

The plant is Danish Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia danica), a saltmarsh species, which arrived in Britain in the Middle Ages. It is hardy and well adapted to hot, dry, and above all salty conditions. Danish Scurvy Grass flowers early in the year. It outcompetes native species in the roadside environment, where it tolerates the  salt produced by gritting.

Danish scurvy grass, cochlearia danica

Most Scurvy Grass specimens in the herbarium collection date from the nineteenth century. They are from locations such as Hilbre Island in the Dee Estuary and show that the plant was restricted to salty coastal environments at the time. Their distribution now also mirrors the British motorway and trunk road network, taking advantage of a habitat that simply didn’t exist in the nineteenth century. This illustrates one of the many uses of herbaria, mapping the changing distributions of plant species… as described in a previous post.


Herbarium Films 1

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Over the past week we have been very busy making a series of films to show you behind the scenes of the herbarium at The Manchester Museum.  Although we admit the clips are far from professional, we do feel they have a certain charm…

Leander introducing the herbarium and showing off some of our Charles Darwin specimens.

Leander introduces Charles Bailey, Cosmo Melvill and Leo Grindon – the three main contributors to the herbarium’s collection

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.