Friday, 31 January 2014

Herbaria buzzing with activity all month.

I hope Peter Sell would have approved of all the activity in British & Irish herbaria this past month. You've already heard about what Chris and Susanne have been doing, and I know that both Waheed (BSBI Blogger) and Phoebe (member of the new Clare group) have been hard at work in herbaria this month - at Kew and in Galway. And Clive Stace was in the Herbarium at Leicester earlier this month to look at a specimen he collected in 1953.


Martin and the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition
Image: M. Godfrey
But Martin Godfrey has also been in touch about another way of using herbarium sheets. At the Potteries Museum in Stoke, they have been using specimens "to illustrate the plant material found in local Saxon excavations as part of the current Staffordshire Hoard exhibition.  The idea is to put the Hoard into a cultural context". 

Botanical collections really are a valuable resource and many are under threat, so it's great to see yet another example of herbarium sheets being used to inform, inspire and engage people.


Martin (right) in the field with Ian Denholm.
Beaumaris 2013
Image: L. Marsh
Martin says "Although the primary plants I selected were "economic" - things like hazel for the nuts, birch for charcoal and madder as a dyestuff, I did also include some "medicinal" items like woundwort and if you look just to my right in the photo (above), you will see greater plantain - the Waybread of the Anglo Saxons which was one of their nine sacred herbs and has a wonderful spell associated with it".

Martin concludes "It is great to see the value of plant collections being recognised and used to illuminate broader exhibitions - in this case, in recognition of the fact that in the past, plants meant a great deal more to people than they do today."

NB I've asked Martin for the "wonderful spell" and will publish it here when it arrives - maybe it will help us conjure up a botanical genie offering us 3 planty wishes for 2014? What would yours be?

STOP PRESS RBGE Curator Elspeth Haston was interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland and the interview is available as an Audiobook here. She talks about the oldest specimen in the Herbarium (collected 1697), and the new species (around one each week) being described thanks to work carried out at RBGE.