suffragettes

Buttercups at Cambridge

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The course I attended (Flowering Plant Families) is run by Cambridge University staff.  This is Dr Tim Upson introducing the course at the Botanic Garden, by the lake. We had just seen a grass snake and joked about how plants often get upstaged by animals!

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Ranunculaceae is the Buttercup family, which contains many ornamentals.  Well known members are the buttercup (obvs), Delphinium, Aquilegia and Thalictrum.  The plants are mainly herbs, with a few climbers (Clematis).  It has a world wide distribution and plants in this family contain alkaloids – some are poisonous, like Aconitum.

The family name Ranunculaceae is pronounced ran-un-queue –lacey.

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A buttercup pulled apart: this family is not characterised by the number of petals and sepals as they are variable.  Linking characters for Ranunculaceae: flower parts are free and not fused, and spirally arranged along the elongated receptacle. There are numerous stamens and carpels.

Buttercups are actinomorphic which means they are radially symmetrical, as opposed to zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical).  Think of a cup and saucer – the saucer is actinomorphic (symmetrical along 3 planes) but the cup is zygomorphic (symmetrical along 2 planes).

The following three illustrations of Hellebore varieties are taken from our cultivated collection. Despite names such as ‘Christmas Rose’, this plant is not in the rose family but the buttercup family.  The first is from ‘The Garden’ the monthly magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society, 1879. The second was from another horticultural magazine: Edwards’s Botanical Register by S.T. Edwards & J. Lindley, 1838, and the third illustration was taken from Paxton’s Flower Garden, 1850-53 by J. Paxton.

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A herbarium sheet of Anemone nemorosa (wood anemone), from the buttercup family, collected by Lydia Becker in Whalley Wood, April 1864 for the British Botanical Competition. Lydia Becker was a suffragette and was born in Chadderton, Manchester.Image

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 1864 she was awarded a gold medal by the Horticultural Society of South Kensington, and in the same year 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 received…