Guest blog by: Sophie Mogg
I’m taking a break from my travels to celebrate world soil day. World soil day celebrates the importance of soil in our natural environment and contributes enormously to human well-being through providing a place to grow crops and supporting all walks of life.
In many parts of the world soil is now contaminated with heavy metals and radioactive elements as a by product of mining and various other human activities. This renders the soil unusable and unsuitable for feeding livestock, growing crops and restoring natural habitats. However there are many plants, known as hyperaccumulators, that are able to absorb these heavy metals through their roots, often concentrating them in their leaves. This process is known as phytoremediation. These metals can be retrieved from the plants by burning them, a process known as phytomining. By using natural hyperaccumulators we can reclaim those areas affected by mining and hopefully restore some natural habitats in the process.
Here are some of those wonderful plants from our collection, enjoy!
Last week, Daniel Atherton and Leslie Hurst from the National Trust gave us an wonderful tour of the gardens of Biddulph Grange (see Campbell’s post on the Egyptian garden here). Unfortunately, little information is available about the gardens as they were being created by the horticulturally-enthusiastic owners James and Maria Bateman (between 1840 and 1861). With the Head Gardener’s logbooks missing, the restoration of the garden has relied on other sources such as letters between Bateman, botanists and plant hunters, books logging out-going plants from specialist nurseries and descriptions from garden visitors.
The Leo Grindon Cultivated plants collection is full of specimens from notable gardens as well as a host of newspaper cuttings, magazine prints, notes and letters. With such a wealth of information, progress has been slow in documenting this collection, and so it remains an exciting treasure-trove of little-explored gems. I wondered whether there would be any references to Bateman or Biddulph Grange in the collection ….but where to start?
James Bateman is famous for his beautifully illustrated volumes on orchids, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before I uncovered some articles which Leo Grindon thought interesting enough to add into his ‘general Orchid’ selection.
This article from the Gardener’s Chronicle (Saturday, November 25th, 1871) is a biography of Bateman and his importance in the 19th century horticultural world. This quote caught my eye:
“Some of the effects, from a landscape gardener’s point of view, were strikingly beautiful, many quaint and grotesque. Had these latter been carried out by a person of less natural taste than Mr Bateman, they would have degenerated into the cockney style. In Mr Bateman’s case there was the less risk of this as, in addition to his own good taste and feeling for the appropriate, he was aided by Mr. E. W. Cooke, the eminent painter, and we may write, plant lover.”
….but I’m still not certain how complimentary this is! Another clipping touches on Bateman’s position in the debate between emerging scientific ideas and the Christian view of the creation of the earth. The geology gallery at Biddulph is a remarkable melding of Bateman’s religion with 19th century scientific discovery in stones and fossils (follow PalaeoManchester for more on this story).
Then there are a few cuttings covering James Bateman’s lectures giving summaries of the information he shared. These cuttings are typical of Leo Grindon’s collection as he rarely recorded the source of his material, or the date of publication. Presumably he was so familiar with the style of the various magazines and papers which he subscribed to that he never saw the need to write these details down.
These cuttings show that Leo Grindon was definitely following the work of James Bateman, but what of the gardens of Biddulph? For the next installment I think we shall have to move into another famous section of the garden, the Himalayan Glen, and delve into the herbarium’s Rhododendron folders to look for more clues.
To be continued……
After a year of full closure while the Museum roof was rebuilt and about a further 5 years of disruption since the window replacement work began, we finally have the herbarium back up and running. So we thought it was high time to host a party to remind the rest of the Museum and the University’s plant scientists just how lovely our store room is.
We laid out examples of our current projects, some of our favourite objects and quirky things that we’ve come across while we’ve been sorting the place out. After everyone had explored the collection we all headed off to the staff room for some delicious botanically-themed cakes.
We should do this more often!
This week I was called over to the offices of the finance team to take a look at their dwarf umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola). It’s clearly received plenty of TLC and is thriving. However, in striving to reach the light it became too tall and very top-heavy. A bit worrying if you’re the one sitting below it! So it was time for some pruning and I’ll be taking the bits home to see if I can get some cuttings growing.
The finance team aren’t the only fans of this plant in the Manchester Museum. This beautiful little frog is a Lemur Leaf Frog; a critically endangered species which is part of the breeding programme in the newly refurbished vivarium.
The dwarf umbrella plant (S. arboricola) is a member of the Araliaceae (ivy) family and is a popular houseplant (especially in variagated forms). This specimen from our cultivated plant collection was collected in China by the plant hunter Augustine Henry (1857–1930). It is undated and was originally identified as a related plant, Heptapleurum octophyllum, but the identification has since been re-determined, as shown by the extra labels. The herbarium sheet is in our cultivated plant collection as the dwarf umbrella plant is native to Taiwan and Hainan, not the mainland Chinese province of Yunnan where this was collected.
The Manchester Histories Festival is well underway, so I think it’s time for some historically-minded posts. Leo Grindon’s Manchester Flora was published in 1859 by William White of Bloomsbury and it is ‘A descriptive list of the plants growing wild within eighteen miles of Manchester with notices of the plants commonly cultivated in gardens’. The book encourages us to ‘consider the lilies of the field’.
Along with an introduction to botany, keys to the families of plants and descriptions of species, Grindon also tells us where to go and look for these plants. So, in 1859, Ringway was the place to go and see snowdrops. I wonder if there are plenty to be found around the airport this spring?
Our copy also has an added extra tucked safely between its pages – a little bleeding heart flower (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, previously Dicentra specabilis). This plant became a popular addition to british gardens after 1846 when Robert Fortune brought it back from his travels through Japan (1812-1880). I wonder if the person who pressed it managed to identify it?
Here are a couple shots behind the scenes today. Above, a pile of herbarium sheets to be filed away. These ones are Rubus specimens (brambles or blackberries) – there are hundreds of species around the world.
This is the East Corridor. The herbarium sheets are stored in the green boxes (they had to green, for botany) and are sorted into geographical areas. This section of the corridor holds European specimens. The bench along the centre should be empty, for working space, but we had to empty out three large store rooms when dry rot was found in the floorboards, so our benches are currently storage areas. Not for too much longer, I hope.
Pterocarya fraxinifolia, Caucasian Wingnut Tree, 156/003
The Caucasian Wingnut tree in Beech Road Park, Chorlton, Manchester, is a particularly fine example of this specimen tree, which was sometimes planted in our Victorian and Edwardian parks. It is occasionally characteristic of the trunk of this species to divide into two main branches not far off the ground. It belongs to the walnut family (Juglandaceae) and is native to the eastern Caucasus, northern Iran and eastern Turkey. In its native habitat it can reach nearly 100 feet in height, but in northern climates it reaches about 80 feet, with a branch spread of 70 feet. Because of its nearly cubic proportions and because it is relatively fast-growing, it is prized as a shade tree. In a good year, the tree in late summer or early autumn is a delightful and strikingly decorative sight, festooned with its long, pale-green strings of seeds.
BBC Plant finder: “This superb, very large tree is rarely seen in the UK due to its enormous size: there are few gardens big enough to accommodate one. However, there are two excellent specimens in Cambridge and Sheffield Botanic Gardens that show how striking this plant can be. The tree has green leaves that can grow to over 60cm (2ft) long and that turn butter-yellow in autumn. In the summer, it produces eyecatching chains of green catkins that can grow up to 60cm (2ft) long. In its native Iran, it is often found growing by rivers, so its favoured position is in a moist, almost boggy soil where it can also get plenty of light.”
Sheets from the Grindon Herbarium