Tomorrow (Saturday 11th May, 1:30pm) we have the final herbarium tour in the public programming for the ‘Looping and Linking’ exhibition (ending 26th May).
Inspired by the life and works of Scottish outsider artist Angus MacPhee this has been an exciting project in conjunction with the Whitworth Art Gallery and has featured the fantastic stage production of Angus’ life by the Horse and Bamboo theatre company, the replica stage props of Angus’ work produced by artist Joanne B Karr (display of her technique in the Whitworth Aft Gallery cafe), weaving workshops with artists Joanne B Kaar and Lucy Burscough and creative word workshops with the poet Tony Curry.
With a focus on art and men’s health, the workshops have been drop-in public events, sessions with young people in a local library and sessions with groups such as Out in the City and the resulting large piece of art work is on display in the courtyard of the Manchester Museum, and every now and again the tree will speak to you! I particularly like the leaf shapes displaying words inspired by the story of Angus MacPhee’s life which follow the seasonal changes in leaf colour from spring to autumn as they progress along the fence.
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.
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.
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!
Earlier this year we posted a photograph of a portrait we found in a box of paperwork at the back of the herbarium. It clearly shows a Victorian botanist – but which one? We speculated that it might look like Richard Buxton, who was a very interesting and impressive self-taught naturalist, but we now have another contender.
Christine Walsh (one of our dedicated team of herbarium volunteers) came across a picture of Joseph Evans (1803 – 1874), botanist and herbal doctor from Boothstown. There’s a biography of him on this site, and I have to say, he looks very like our mystery man. What do you think?
Today I began choosing fungus specimens for part of a display for the upcoming gallery "Nature's Library" at the Manchester Museum. The Herbarium houses a fairly large collection of fungus in the form of sheets, packeted and boxed specimens. A number of the boxed specimens are housed in the Materia Medica room along with herbs, gums and resins.
Some of the most interesting specimens we found were boxed examples of the fungus…
The University of Manchester has broken up for the Easter holidays and so it must be the right time of year again for the 1st year field course in Comparative and Adaptive Biology. This year the staff and students were even more enthusiastic than usual to escape the unseasonably cold snow flurries of Manchester and head for sunny Mallorca. We’ve been braving the mosquitoes in the shrubberies to study how plants cope with the challenges of Mediterranean living and to see some interesting examples of plant endemism.
Last year I blogged about one of our days on the seashore, so I think this time I shall go more terrestrial and share some images from a site which is one of the staff favourites. Although there are other places to go and see Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) woodland, the Bronze Age talayotic site of Ses Paisses is pretty special. Excavated in the mid 20th century, the settlement is arranged around a central tower (or talaiot) and is now covered by a very nice woodland.
Under the shade of the oak trees we find black bryony (Tamus communis), butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and a hemi-parasitic plant Osyris alba which can produce it’s own sugars by photosynthesis but steals water and minerals from a host plant .
However, with all these rocks around there is always the chance that botanical lectures on the effects of light and shade can end up being disrupted by sudden acts of zoology….
We have had a a new display installed in the Museum foyer this week. It was curated by the Manchester Museum’s Senior Youth Board and it reflects their interpretation of our Collecting Trees theme. Called ‘Northwest to Northwest; Forest to Metropolis’, this installation is inspired by the historic trade in red cedarwood from British Columbia to the Manchester via Canada Docks in Salford.
They have used this theme to make links between the Living Cultures and Zoology collections through wooden objects of Native American art and the animals represented therein. We’d love to hear what you think about it; if you’re visiting soon, please leave us a comment on our special postcards.
I had a wonderful trip to Porto in Portugal last week with two volunteers from the Manchester Museum, Gina and Vivien. The themes were ecology and culture, and we mixed with staff and volunteers from other institutions in Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal, Lithuania and Iceland. Each country will take a turn to host the group, with different volunteers each time. The project is called ‘This is us: Our place, our culture!‘ and is funded by Grundtvig. I am very grateful for the opportunity to go.
We were taken to Lipor, the region’s recycling plant, where the waste that the local residents recycle is sorted for further processing. It was set in beautiful gardens with vegetables, fruit trees, farm animals and a small lake. Local children are invited to attend educations sessions there to help pass on the message of recycling to their families, and to grow up with the knowledge of recycling and its benefits. We each made a grass head and a foam pipe to bring home – both great ways to use up waste products and teach children about recycling.
We also visited Águas do Douro e Paiva, a water treatment works for the Douro region. We learned how to make candles and soap from used kitchen oil, another practical way of reusing rather than recycling waste products.
And yes, we did visit a port wine cellar, and it would have been rude not to sample a little.
The group will be visiting Manchester in spring 2014 and we are looking forward to welcoming them with fish and chips!
I have been very lucky to be chosen to go to Portugal next week with two volunteers from The Manchester Museum. It’s part of a European project called ‘This is us! Our place, our culture!’
The themes are ecology and culture, and we are really looking forward to visiting Freixo Palace (below), Lipor recycling plant and a local wine cellar. The three of us will be meeting staff and volunteers from the other project countries involved. We are going to take salt and vinegar crisps for them to try!
Rummaging through a box at the back of the herbarium earlier today we came across this lovely painting of a botanist (nothing like having a fern in the lapel to demonstrate your occupation!).
Looking at a display panel in the herbarium, we thought the man in the portrait looks rather similar to the daguerreotype of Richard Buxton aged 65 (on the right). What do you think?
Richard Buxton (1786 – 1865) was a very interesting man, born in Prestwich and apprenticed to be a children’s shoemaker, he decided to teach himself to read. From there, he moved on to educating himself about the plants he found growing around him, firstly by reading Culpeper’s Herbal, before reading more scientific texts which explained the Linnaean system for classifying plants. He became a renowned local botanist and wrote floras of the plants found around Manchester. We are proud to have plant material collected by such a remarkable man in our herbarium collections, and so we have some out on display in our Manchester Gallery.
Over the past several decades anthropologists active in the field of ancient Peruvian civilisation have scrutinised the role played by the grain maize. This may seem like a rather odd thing to be scrutinising but how a civilisation feeds itself has a remarkable impact on how it develops. Ancient civilisations that became dependant on farming, such as Egypt and China, established permanent settlements.
As it is Fairtrade Fortnight Anna Bunney and myself decided to host a fairtrade tea party on Monday in the Museum's staffroom.
There was a good turn out for tea and cake on a cold February afternoon and fun was had by all. All tea and coffee available was of course fairtrade as were the delcious cakes.
Thanks to everyone who came along and donated and particularly to lovely people who baked or brought cakes.
For National Nest Box Week, we made homes for starlings and sparrows which will be placed in trees around the University of Manchester campus. We’re hoping to increase the amount of wildlife that calls the University campus home.
Members of the public helped us by decorating the boxes with their individual artworks
We couldn’t decide whether this was a colder event than the Wonderful Whitworth Wildlife bioblitz last year!
Tomorrow, artist Lucy Burscough will be making beautiful bird houses made from woven naural fibres in one of our Urban Naturalist events. These nesting pouches would be suitable for wrens and are inspired by the work of the Scottish ‘outsider artist’ Angus McPhee.
Chinese New Year, also known as New Year in the Agricultural Calendar, is just round the corner. As billions of people get ready to welcome in the New Year we have had a look into the role botany plays in the festivities and at some of our more important Chinese donations.
Oats are important in the celebration of the New Year. On the eighth day of the lunar month before the new year a traditional porridge is made and served to each member of the family called làbāzhōu (臘八粥), pardon my Mandarin…
Bamboo sticks, along with fireworks and firecrackers, are burnt to make as much noise as possible on the first day if the New Year. This is practiced to chase off evil spirits.
At midnight on the eighth day of the New Year the Hoklo people (Han Chinese people whose traditional ancestral homes are in southern Fujian) will offer thanks giving prayers to the Emperor of Heaven, commonly offering sugarcane. Legend states that the Hoklo people were spared from massacre by Japanese pirates by hiding in a sugarcane plantation during the eighth and ninth days of the Chinese New Year, coinciding with the Jade Emperor’s birthday. As a symbol of their gratitude the Hoklo people will offer sugarcane on the eve of his birthday.
Also in the preceding days to the New Year debts of gratitude are often sent, commonly gifts and rice are sent to business associates and extended family members.
Here in the herbarium we have a rather large collection of plants found in South-East Asia, mainly China, collected by Wai-Yu Lee, a Chinese botanist. He donated over 1000 plants from his personal herbarium in 2002.
We also have several specimens collected in China by the botanist Augustine Henry (1857 — 1930). Although he regarded his work as a hobby, he became one of the most important botanical collectors to have worked in central China.
Why not celebrate the Year of the Snake by making porridge, bashing bamboo sticks or offer sugarcane to past Emperors? If these celebrations don’t take your fancy, you could just watch some fireworks, details of the 2013 display in Manchester can be found here.
Blog post By Alyssa, Herbarium Placement Student.
It's been a real pleasure to paint one of my favourite things that grow in the garden, a Papaver somniferum seed head. Spending the time to really look at it's structure and mix it's colours, both muted and vivid, has made me appreciate it's beauty even more. I hope you enjoy the results too.
Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 20", November 2012 Available For Salehere.
Working with wood in Ancient Egypt: a practical demonstration
In conjunction with our 'Collecting Trees' project and as part of our ‘Discover Archaeology’ Big Saturday on February the 9th, the Museum is delighted to host Dr. Geoffrey Killen, an expert on ancient Egyptian woodworking, who will demonstrate ancient craft techniques – LIVE! Watch Geoff use replica ancient Egyptian tools to make furniture, the Egyptian way.
Paper was precious and expensive in the mid 19th century, when many of our herbarium specimens were collected and pressed. Some collectors re-used newspaper or letters as mounting paper for their pressed flowers.
We always keep a sheet of vintage newspaper once the plant specimen has been remounted onto new acid-free paper. Above are some of the delightful examples of adverts, stories, and articles we have discovered while working on the collection here at the Manchester Museum.
There are many more, for a future blog post.