Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Oliver Sacks: neurologist and pteridologist

Oliver at the New York Botanical Garden
Image courtesy of New York
Botanical Garden/ Robin Moran
Many people around the world will recognise the name of the late Dr Oliver Sacks CBE, the British-born neurologist who moved to the United States in his 20s and whose books about the human brain became best-sellers - some were also made into Academy Award-winning films and operas.  

Fewer people will be aware that he was also a passionate botanist with a particular love of ferns. 

A new documentary film about Dr Oliver Sacks is currently in production and the team behind it contacted BSBI with this message:

'Ferns, for Dr Oliver Sacks, were a living embodiment of deep time. 

'He was a long-time member of the American Fern Society, the British Pteridological Society and the New York Botanical Garden, where he had close relationships with the fern and cycad curators.  

Oliver at a meeting of the New York Fern Society
Image courtesy of New York
Botanical Garden/ Robin Moran
“Ferns delighted me with their curlicues, their croziers, their Victorian quality (not unlike the frilled antimacassars and lacy curtains in our house.) But at a deeper level, they filled me with wonder because they were of such ancient origin… 

"Ferns had survived, with little change, for a third of a billion years. Other creatures, like dinosaurs, had come and gone, but ferns, seemingly so frail and vulnerable, had survived all of the vicissitudes, all the extinctions the earth had known". -- Oliver Sacks, Oaxaca Journal

Oliver visiting a Titan Arum in 2004
Image courtesy of New York
Botanical Garden/ Robin Moran
'Botany was just one of Dr Sacks’ many passions. As a neurologist, he pioneered the idea of “compassionate care” in medicine.  

'And as a best-selling author, he broadened the audience for medical case history by writing about patients as whole people and sharing their stories. 

'Dr Sacks’ powerful stories are being brought to life in an immersive new documentary film called The Animated Mind of Oliver Sacks. 

'Last week, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise funds for the film. You can find out more about the campaign, and contribute, here'.