The herbarium possesses a wealth of botanical specimens in a special collection called the Materia Medica. The Materia Medica collection houses a huge variety of plant derivatives that were used in Victorian times for their therapeutic benefits. Stored in a confusing order in awkward cupboards in a room seldom visited, the collection was in need of a re-organisation. Each sample is stored in a glass jar. On each glass jar is a number in sharpie pen, this number represents the family the plant is a member of, using the Bentham & Hooker system of ordering. Previously the collection was ordered by what the sample was. For example there would be a shelf for seed samples, rhizomes, cortex samples, leaves etc. This system didn’t make much sense for a person who wanted to view all of the parts of one plant, or one genus of plant. This led to us deciding it would be best to do a complete overhaul of the system of ordering and start anew.
The first task in the project was to clear the cupboards of all of the samples. One morning Jamie the apprentice, Bernard the volunteer and I emptied the cupboards. Using the numbers written on the jars, we placed samples from the same family together on some temporary shelving. 578 jars of samples later and we had finally cleared the cupboards.
The next task was to write down what exactly was in each jar. What the sample was, the common name of the plant, the plant’s Latin name etc. This data is to be entered into a spreadsheet so that when people want to look specific items in the collection they will know where it is located or if there are any other parts of the plant in the collection. We will the re-house the collection back into the cupboards in the new order.
Whilst the advent of modern medicine means the samples in the Materia Medica are no longer widely used, the samples are fascinating. The collection includes items such as: Poppy seeds (Papaver somniferum), Acacia Gum (Acacia sp.), Red Sandal Wood (Pterocarpus santalinus) , Grains of Paradise (Amomum melegueta) & Dragon’s Blood (Calamus draco).
Blog post by Josh, FLS placement student
It’s the end of an era in the Manchester Museum Herbarium as we have a room cleared in preparation for a new storage system. The Quad Room (overlooking the Old Quadrangle and the John Owens building) was home to the lichen, algae and Leo Grindon cultivated plant collections along with part of the herbarium library. In the last two weeks we have moved them all out so that the old wooden cupboards can be removed. These were built when the collection was stored in a different style and so now that the herbarium sheets are in green solander boxes, the cupboards and shelves don’t make the most efficient use of space.
In its place, we will be having a compactor system installed and it’s moveable racking should make much better use of this room. These mobile racks are secondhand and have been dismantled from the Whitworth Art Gallery as part of the major refurbishment works. It’ll be the last time we get to see some of these views!
While we’re making changes, not all of our collections will be as accessible as usual. In particular, we don’t currently have access to the lichens, the fungi, the algae or the Leo Grindon Cultivated Plants. However, there is still plenty to see, such as the majority of the flowering plant collections, the ferns, the fruits and seeds and the mosses. While access to the herbarium for visitors will be limited while the work takes place, these collections can still be viewed in our Collections Study Centre.