sustainability

A Travelling Botanist: #WorldSoilDay

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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!

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A Travelling Botanist: International Year of the Pulses

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Guest blog by: Sophie Mogg

2016 marks the international year of the pulses, decided back in 2013 at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Food and Agriculture Organization nominated pulses in the hope that this would raise awareness of their importance in providing a sustainable source of plant protein.

Throughout the the year there have been many conferences, discussions and workshops held in order to promote a better understanding and public awareness on topics surrounding sustainable food production, food security and nutrition as well as improvements in crop rotation and how we can work towards improving trade connections of pulses and utilization of plant based proteins. Whilst none of these events are taking place in the UK many resources are available online at their website including recipes and videos for you to watch.

As with all my other blog posts I have found some specimens within our collection to show you.

The Chick Pea (Cicer arietinum)

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Cicer arietinum

“This interesting little leguminous plant has been an object of cultivation from time immemorial & grows wild at the present day in the cornfields”

C. arietinum is one of the earliest cultivated legumes dating back around 7,500 years ago in the Middle East. Production is rapidly increasing across Asia as superior cultivars are developed and released. Many country farmers depend upon this legume for a source of income however legumes also enrich the soil through the addition of nitrogen.

This small plant, reaching heights of 20-50 cm, may not look like much but the seeds pack a punch. Approximately 100g of these seeds provides ~20% of protein, dietary fibre and other minerals needed, thereby providing a cheaper alternative to those who cannot afford meat or choose not to eat it. Leaves are also consumed providing essential micro-nutrients which are significantly higher than in cabbage and spinach.

A study has also shown that the chickpea can also be used as an animal feed, with many groups of animals benefiting.

The Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan)

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Cajanus cajan

The pigeon pea often grows between 1-4M tall with a tap root reaching around 2M. This legume is also a major source of protein for those living in South Asia and has been consumed across Asia, Africa and Latin America since it was first domesticated in India around 3,500 years ago.

It is a perennial plant that is harvested for between 3-5 years however after the second year the yield drops and so annuals are more often used as a means to harvest the seed. Like the chickpea, the pigeon pea is also able to enrich soils with nitrogen and its leaves are often used to feed cattle whilst the woody stem is used for firewood.

 

 

 

 

Black Lentil (Vigna mungo aka Phaseolus mungo L.)

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Vigna mungo

Vigna mungo can be found in various forms ranging from a fully erect plant to one that trails growing between 30-100cm. It produces large leaves which are hairy and seed pods that are approximately 6cm long.

It is very popular in India where the seed is split and made into dal.  The Black Lentil is very nutritionally rich containing 25g of protein per 100g of seed as well as many other important micro-nutrients and therefore plays a huge role in the diets of those from India.

A Travelling Botanist: The Miracle Tree

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Guest blog series by: Sophie Mogg

In this installment of A Travelling Botanist I will be focusing on Moringa oleifera, commonly referred to as the miracle tree.

Moringa oleifera is native to South Asia however due to the multitude of useful products it can provide its distribution has increased in more recent years and now covers the majority of Asia, Africa and Europe. M. oleifera is a hardy tree, requiring little in the way of compost or manure and being drought resistant it is well suited to the environment of developing countries. M. oleifera reaches heights of up to 3M within the first 10 months and initial harvests of leaves are able to occur between 6-8months, with subsequent yields improving as the tree reaches maturity at around 12M tall.

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Moringa oleifera specimens. Seeds, bark and pods.

Many parts of the Moringa tree are utilised in South Asian cooking. The young seed pods, more often referred to as drumsticks, are used in a variety of dishes such as curries, sambars, kormas and dals. The drumsticks can also be incorporated into soups such as the Burmese Dunt-dalun chin-yei. This is true also for the fruit of the drumsticks, the white seeds can either be cooked as you would green peas or incorporated into a variety of soups.  Flowers can also be used, generally being boiled or fried and incorporated into a variety of friend snacks such as pakoras and fritters or alternatively used in tea.

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Moringa oleifera herbarium sheet

The leaves of the Moringa tree  are considered to be very nutritional, with the suggestion that a teaspoon of leaf powder being incorporated into a meal three times a day could aid in reducing malnutrition. The leaves can be prepared in a variety of ways, from being ground into a find powder or deep-friend for use in sambals. They can also be made into a soup with the addition of rice, a popular breakfast during Ramadan.  The leaves of the Moringa also contain antiseptic properties with a recent study suggesting that 4g of leaf powder can be as good as modern day non-medicated soap. This provides some means of sanitation to people who would otherwise not be able to properly clean their hands.

The seeds of a single Moringa tree can be used to provide clean water for up to 6 people for an entire year. With their outer casing removed, the seeds can be ground to form what is known as a seed cake that can be used to filter water thereby removing between 90-99% of the bacteria present. This works on the basis of attraction whereby positively charged seeds attract negatively charged bacteria and viruses causing them to coagulate and form particles known as floc. This floc then falls to the bottom of the container leaving clean water above it. It is estimated that only 1-2 seeds are required for every litre of water.

Oil is a by-product of making the seed cakes, comprising of around 40% of the seed. This oil, often known as “ben oil” by watchmakers, can serve a variety of purposes due to its properties. Due to being light, it is ideal for use in machinery and produces no smoke when lit making it ideal for oil-based lamps.  The oil also contains natural skin and hair purifiers and is becoming more popular with well known cosmetic companies such as The Body Shop and LUSH thereby providing revenue to the farmers who grow the miracle tree. It also bears similarities to olive oil making it ideal for cooking and therefore another avenue for marketing this multipurpose oil.

Moringa oleifera and its close relatives are also known for their medicinal properties, containing 46 antioxidants which aid in preventing damage to cells. Due to containing benzyl isothiocyanate it has been suggested that Moringa may also contain chemo-protective properties.

I know that you may think I have completely forgotten the bark of the tree. But no, that too has its use. The tree bark is beaten into long fibres ideal for making strong rope.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about the Miracle tree as much as I have, if you wish to seek more information just follow the links below.

Medicinal uses

Trees for Life International

 

As always comment below with your favourite plant and if it’s in our collection and found within South Asia or Europe, I’ll be happy to feature it!

Graphene’s high-rise meadow

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Green roof on the roof terrace of the Graphene Institute

Back in June, perhaps some of the Graphene Week 2015 attendees spotted this little patch of wildness on the roof of the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester. This green roof was installed as the building was nearing completion in 2014 and is part of the commitment to improving the University’s campus as a habitat for wildlife. The University’s green roof policy can be found here, along with the other University policies about environmental sustainability.

Bee on Birdsfoot trefoil

Ahead of Graphene Week, the Biodiversity Working Group put together some information about pollinators, their requirements and the urban environment in order to have a sign in place for the delegates to read. This roof is particularly designed to attract bees, both wild bees and the honey bees from hives on roofs of the Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery.

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The roof was created with a ‘sedum and wildflower’ mat made up with 21 different species. The low-growing sedums are now most visible around the sloping edges of the meadow, and taller species seem to dominate towards the middle. However, perhaps that’s not true; the sedums may be just hidden by the taller growing plants.

Maiden pink flower

This summer, the Faculty of Life Sciences has arranged for a student to survey the roof to see how the plants are distributed.  The Biodiversity Working Group will be continuing to monitor the roof’s progress to see how the composition of plants changes from this baseline. Some plants are likely to thrive, some will struggle and other’s will arrive as seeds blow over the roof or fall off people’s clothing.

Ladybird pupa on Sedum reflexum

Siberia: At the Edge of the World Oct 2014 – Mar 2015

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Tonight is the private view for our latest temporary exhibition, Siberia, after months of hard work by Dmitri Logunov and David Gelsthorpe (who have curated it) and a final few furious weeks of activity by the team who have installed it (many thanks to the collections care and access team!). There are many beautiful objects on show, but I thought I’d show a little of the preparation which went into getting one of the botanical specimens ready for display.

Dmitri brought some examples of Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica) to the Museum which had been collected in the Novosibirsk Region of Russia in August 2013. After a spell in the herbarium freezer to ensure that there were no insect pests, Lindsey and I put in a box for safe keeping where they waited their turn for almost a year.

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A box of Siberian pine specimens in assorted Russian carrier bags

A standard herbarium sheet didn’t really seem to do justice to the many pieces of tree we had acquired and as they were destined for display before incorporation into the herbarium we decided to arrange them on something bigger. We like to re-use display boxes from previous exhibitions to increase the sustainability of our displays. An acrylic box which had previously housed a stunning fan coral in the ‘Coral, something rich and strange’ seemed perfect.

With the possibilities of several branches and pine cones to choose from, mounting the specimens onto something stronger than paper also seemed like a good plan, so we asked paper conservator Dan Hogger if he could find us a suitably sized piece of cardboard. One of our regular volunteers, Christine, then tried out various bits and pieces for size to find an arrangement which looked attractive.

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The plan, the tools, the card and the specimens – ready to go for it!

The task of attaching a small tree seedling, a small branch, a group of pine needles, 2 whole cones, one half eaten cone, one sectioned cone and a series of pine nuts on to the card then fell to Jemma (our placement student from Life Sciences) and myself. We decided that a combination of glue, tissue papers nests and sewing would do the job better than our standard method of gummed paper slips. We wanted to be thorough as this display is going to be attached vertically to the wall until March 2015 and I didn’t want to find myself taking it down for repairs every other week.

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Jemma glueing tissue paper ‘nests’ to rest the pinecones in

Then the finished piece was off to conservation to be mounted onto the backing board, and down into the exhibition space to be hung in it’s place amongst the other flora and fauna of the taiga.

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Mounted onto the backing board by conservator Jenny
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Waiting for attention from the workshop team
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Done! Bring on the opening!

Tree sample collecting day, October 3rd 2013.

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Hello! My name is Josh and I am new to the herbarium. I am a member of the faculty of life sciences at the University of Manchester, and for the work placement part of my degree it is my pleasure to spend a year working in the herbarium with Rachel and Lindsey . This is only my first week but we’ve already been busy collecting lots of tree samples from the array of trees we have on campus. Henry McGhie, Dr Webster and I started out by recording the geographic location of each tree we sampled, measured the girth of each tree’s main trunk and took small clippings of the leaves (and fruits in some cases!) Samples included the tulip tree, genus Liriodendron. The British crab apple tree, family Rosaceae and the Willow tree Salix.

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Image Henry valiantly trying to experience the fruitful delights of the Crab Apple.

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Biodiversity on the road to Jodrell

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Today the city centre-based members of the University’s Biodiversity Working Group hit the road to head out of the city and into Cheshire to hold a meeting at Jodrell Bank. Although home to the University of Manchester’s Centre for Astrophysics, the world famous Lovell telescope and a Discovery centre to explore the science of space, we were heading there to talk to Becky Burns, the Head of Gardens and Interpretation.

Lovell telescope

After all, it’s only fair that we should make the effort to visit Becky in her workplace from time to time instead of asking her to travel to us for meetings. The Biodiversity Working Group meets to discuss opportunities to increase the biodiversity on the campus of the University of Manchester and at about 35 acres, the Jodrell Bank arboretum is one of the University’s biodiversity hotspots. The arboretum holds two national Collections of Sorbus (whitebeam) and Malus (ornamental crab apples) trees, and with the late spring this year it is just about ready to burst into a profusion of blossom.

Fernery with bluebells So many lovely trees! The Galaxy Garden  Lovely new interpretation for the gardens

Visiting Jodrell wasn’t the only excitement of the day however, as this week the University was loaned a Nissan Leaf electric car and we were lucky enough to be allowed to use it to travel between sites. Qutie a number of Manchester’s buses are now hybrid diesel-electric, but this was my first experience of a fully electric car and it was pretty comfortable as well as having very green credentials. It was also just so quiet!

 Nissan LEAF in the old quad  Emma Gardner, Lucy Millard, Henry McGhie, Rachel Webster  Inside a silent car Couldn't resist the tulips in the old quad!