Happy Conrad Gesner Day! Who is he, you may ask? And why does he have a day? Conrad Gesner (sometimes spelled Konrad Gessner) was a Swiss naturalist and polymath, born on this day (26th March) in 1516; he lived much of his life in Zurich, where he died on 13 December 1565. Gesner was an extremely important figure in Renaissance science and scholarship, and when I visited Zurich in 2008 to give a seminar at the university, a tour of the old town revealed a number of references to the great man, including the memorial stone above.
Gesner’s Historia animalium (“History of Animals”) is considered one of the founding texts of modern zoology, and for that reason he is memorialised in the name Gesneria Hübner, 1825; this is a genus of moths in the family Crambidae.
However Gesner was also a botanist and wrote a couple of books on the subject, though his Historia plantarum was not published until two centuries after his death. To celebrate Gesner’s botanical achievements Linnaeus erected the genus Gesneria L. for a group of flowering plants. Sounds odd to have the same name for two very different types of organism, but this cross-kingdom duplication of genera is allowable under the various codes of taxonomic nomenclature.
Gesneria in turn is the type genus for the family Gesneriaceae. It’s quite a big family (about 3,450 species in 152 genera) and is ecologically important in the tropics and subtropics, where species may be pollinated by insects and birds, and are often epiphytic on trees. It’s not a particularly economically important family, though a number of genera are widely grown as ornamentals, and there are specialist gesneriad growers and collectors. The more familiar plants include those mainstays of Mothering Sunday (which by coincidence is also today) African Violets (Saintpaulia), Cape Primroses (Streptocarpus) and gloxinias (Gloxinia):
As I was looking through my photographs from the trip to Zurich in 2008 I spotted the following image of some wrought ironwork from the old city which may well be contemporary with Gesner. This seems a fitting way to celebrate both the great man and this week’s Spiral Sunday:
Happy Birthday Dr Gesner!
Today Karin and I took a drive up to Birmingham to visit my daughter Ellen, who is studying applied performance and community theatre at Birmingham School of Acting. After picking her up we went for lunch at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Now, I’m a bit of a botanic gardens collector; I love visiting them, and keep a life list of those I’ve visited and a wish list of those I’d like to visit. So I was sure I had been to the Botanical Gardens as a PhD student during a British Ecological Society conference at the University of Birmingham. But when we arrived there I had no recollection of the glasshouses or the layout, it was not familiar at all. Odd how the memory plays tricks, one way or another.
I can recommend a visit, though – the Gardens looked stunning even this early in the season; lots of plants in flower and even a buzzard circling low overhead. It being Spiral Sunday, of course, I was seeing spirals everywhere; in the unfurling fronds of a tree fern (Blechnum gibbum):
On a cast iron garden seat:
In the flowers of a variety of camellia:
In the leaves and flower cones of Banksia grandis:
And in the design of a sun hat in the Gardens shop:
The University of Northampton is custodian of one of the best collections of posters in Britain. The Osborne Robinson Collection now contains over 10,000 items and the university regularly displays them internally and at other venues.
This week’s Spiral Sunday shows a poster currently on display that caught my eye as I was passing. The poster is by Edward McKnight Kauffer for London Underground (or Underground Electric Railways Co. of London, Ltd as it was), and dates from 1922.
Although it is technically a non-native species, as it was almost certainly brought to Britain by the Romans, Helix pomatia (the edible or Roman snail) is nonetheless protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), and in England it is an offence to sell, collect, kill or injure this species. That’s an unusual situation for an alien animal or plant in this country, and I’m struggling to think of another example – are there any?
Regardless of its status, the large shells of the Roman snail (several times bigger than the common garden snail Cornu aspersum when fully grown) form a beautiful spiral for today’s Spiral Sunday posting.
Thanks to Dr Tim Astrop for allowing me to photograph this dead specimen.
I took this week’s Spiral Sunday photograph at a small sculpture park in an old quarry on the coastal path on Kirkøy (Hvaler) in Norway when we were attending the SCAPE 2012 conference in Skjærhalden.
If I recall correctly it was late afternoon and there was a wonderful low light on the stones, hard shadows sharpening the carved edges of the sculptures. It was magical to come across these sculptures unexpectedly on a long circular hike; I’d recommend a visit if you are in the area.
Karin and I went for a long hike today in the north of the county, a five mile circuit from Easton on the Hill, through Stamford, and back past the amazing ruins of Wothorpe Towers. In the churchyard at Easton I photographed today’s Spiral Sunday image, a stylised botanical form carved into a slab of the local limestone, a 19th century grave marker for a former inhabitant of the village. As a bonus, here’s the full carving: I really like the twining bindweed.
On 12th February 1809 Mr Charles Robert Darwin was born, so I couldn’t let this week’s Spiral Sunday pass without wishing the great man Happy Birthday! I used Festisite to make the spiral text and then played around with an image of Darwin using PowerPoint; nothing too fancy, but I think it’s effective.
Have a great #DarwinDay everyone!
As he was leaving work on Friday evening my colleague Dr Mu Mu commented on how he was looking forward to today’s Spiral Sunday. That’s the first time anyone has said such a thing, so this week’s image is dedicated to him! It’s the carved end of a mahogany bannister that he passes most days on his way to and from the office in the Newton Building of the University of Northampton.
The Newton Building was constructed in 1915 so the wood was probably harvested from the wild in South or Central America, rather than being from a plantation. These solid, knife-straight bannisters have lasted over 100 years without warping, and will no doubt last for a century or more to come. I love their smooth solidity, but they are a beautiful, daily reminder of the history of tropical deforestation.
Whenever I take a walk on a beach or in the countryside I’m liable to pick up interesting bits of shell, stone, sea glass or wood to take home as a memento of the visit. Doesn’t always work, though, as I forget where I found this fragment of shell! I have a feeling that it was on Tenerife. I love the way the sea has rounded the sharp edges and a piece of stone has forced its way into the opening, a perfect sculpture in miniature as today’s Spiral Sunday contribution.
Spiral Sunday this week is brought to you by Fergus Chadwick, and is (in his words) a “spiral of spirals”: a spiral display of spiral ammonite fossils at the Kelvin Grove Museum in Glasgow. Thanks for the photo Fergus!