Darwin

#AdventBotany Day 12: Erasmus Darwin born 12 December 1731 bringing botanical love and joy to the world! By Dr M

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Advent botany couldn’t be advent botany without botanists – and amongst them are a number of significant “advent botanists”, those born in the days of advent and Dr M’s first offering on this theme is Erasmus Darwin.

Follow this link to Dr M’s blog to read more………

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My week at the Natural History Museum, London

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I spent a wonderful week at the Natural History Museum, London (NHM) on a placement. The aim of the scheme is to exchange knowledge, aid professional development and enable lasting change.

I learnt and experienced so much – here are some highlights.

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My host was Ranee Prakesh, Curator of Flowering Plants. After my induction, she gave me a tour of the herbarium and Darwin Centre gallery, both housed in a purpose built cocoon:

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In the afternoon I learnt about NHM’s Digital Collections project, and then got to work.  I scanned herbarium sheets on a Herbscan machine – an upside down scanner. Some of the sheets had writing on the back so both sides had to be scanned. The images would be added to the museum’s database later.

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On the second day, I was shown how NHM staff use Emu, the museum’s database, and learnt about the current rapid digitisation project.  Herbarium specimens are shipped to The Netherlands for imaging on a conveyor belt / camera system called Digistreet, then the data from the images will be transcribed in Suriname.  The NHM staff were waiting to find out the quality of the data.

I shared ideas with the plant mounting team, demonstrating ‘Manchester style’ (strapping) and having a go at the NHM way (glueing and pressing). They were surprised I cut my own straps from archival quality paper: sometimes the best way is not always the most expensive way. That’s one of the many things I love about curatorial work.

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I was shown how loans were documented and packed in the afternoon, and how the NHM staff process a loan on Ke Emu.

Day 3 was spent in the herbarium store. Ranee explained how the herbarium sheets are arranged taxonomically according to APG, and filed geographically within this system. I spent some time sorting specimens to family and genus level in preparation for laying-in.  The open plan workspace was visible through a window in the gallery so I had the public watching me at work!

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Later that day I had a tour of the Specimen Preparation Area to see the V-Factor volunteers at work. They were sorting through sediment from a quarry, looking for tiny fossils, and a different project is run each weekday in this area visible from the museum gallery.

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The fourth day was spent in The Cryptogamic Herbarium.  I had a short tour of the bryophyte collection then got to work repackaging mosses into individual capsules:

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I was showed round the historical collections and the fern herbarium in the afternoon. We discussed Integrated Pest Management and preventative conservation in relation to historic botany collections.

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I also worked alongside Ranee laying out specimens ready for the plant mounters. This involved placing the pressed specimen and label on a sheet of mounting paper and enclosing any loose material in a capsule. There was a large amount of newly donated material to be mounted and filed in the herbarium sent in from researchers and staff on expeditions.

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On the fifth day I had a tour of the Linnean Society.  Carl Linnaeus’s personal herbarium in particular was amazing to see.

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Next, I learnt about citizen science at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. This is where the public gather or analyse data for research or curatorial purposes, such as transcribing data from a bird register, which is an NHM project called ‘Notes from Nature’ currently running on Zooniverse.

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To wrap it all up there was a tea party at the end of my last day. It was lovely to see the staff I had met during the week and thank them all for giving up their time and making me feel so welcome. I am intending that some lasting change will happen at Manchester Museum as a result of my week at the NHM, particularly better storage for our type specimens and some changes to volunteering.

Many thanks to all the curators and collections managers at the NHM who allowed me this fantastic opportunity.

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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.

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…