Tag Archives: Horticulture

5th annual Postgraduate Research Symposium at Moulton College (Northants) – 15th December

Really interesting line up of speakers at the 5th Postgraduate Research Symposium at Moulton College Thursday 15th December 2016 in P9 (Lecture Theatre, Pitsford Centre (Gate 4), Moulton, Northampton, NN3 7QL).

For more information and to book a place for catering purposes, please contact Dr Wanda McCormick: wanda.mccormick@moulton.ac.uk

1.00pm Steve Davies Principal: Opening address

1.15pm Julia Lock: Tree health: without the chemicals

1.30pm Helen Tedds:  What does the future hold for exotic pet welfare?

1.45pm Blessing Katampe: Overview of aquaculture in Nigeria: prospects and challenges

2.00pm Claire Mitchell: Canine skull morphology: what we know so far

2.15pm Zainab Al-Rubaye: Lameness detection in sheep via multi-data analysis of a wearable sensor

2.30pm BREAK

2.45pm Emily Howard-Williams: The effect of eroded ecological networks on the movement of harvest mice (Micromys minutus)

3.00pm Clare Ellis: Do domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) show individual consistency in their response to being handled?

3.15pm Dominic Langdon: Inter-session reliability of resting systolic blood pressure and centre of pressure in young adults

3.30pm Jessica York: The kinematics of the equine axial skeleton when exercising on an aqua-treadmill

3.45pm Alex Laws: Impacts of solar farms on UK agriculture

4.00pm Adnan Haq: An evaluation of the effects of whole body cryotherapy treatment for sports recovery

4.15pm COFFEE, TEA, MINCE PIES AND NETWORKING

 

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Book review: A Veritable Eden – The Manchester Botanic Garden, a History by Ann Brooks (2011)

This is a book review that’s been in press for many months in the Manchester Region History Review, and I finally found out that it had appeared and I’d missed it!  Anyway I thought this would be a good opportunity to present the review to a wider audience who might be interested, and to correct a couple of typos in the printed version.

A Veritable Eden – The Manchester Botanic Garden, a History. Ann Brooks (2011). Windgather Press, Oxford. RRP – £25.

The plant kingdom globally contains an estimated diversity of 350,000 species. In the UK we can boast only some 1500 native species, a legacy of both our status as a collection of modestly sized, temperate zone islands, and the effect of the last ice age which scoured much of the land surface of its previously established flora. A depauperate flora, combined with plant envy of the botanical riches of other countries, may be one reason why British botanic gardens have been important in cataloguing and describing the world’s plant diversity, and in augmenting that flora by cramming our gardens with exotic specimens from overseas.

This long history of plant study and horticulture can be traced back to at least the mid 17th century, with the founding of what was to become Oxford Botanic Garden. Since that time, Britain’s botanic gardens have played a significant role in the economic development of both the country and its former Empire, and continue to be important in science and education, and in the leisure and recreation of the British people.

Previous work on the history of botanic gardens in Europe has tended to concentrate on the large metropolitan botanic gardens, particularly Kew, with their star botanists and international networks of contacts and collectors (e.g. Brockway 1979, Endersby 2010, Ollerton et al. 2012). The smaller provincial botanic gardens, in contrast, have been rather neglected by historians, despite the fact that almost every large British city possessed one, and that they have been an important part of local leisure and education. This is a tradition that stretches from the early 19th century and continues through to the more recent founding of the Eden Project and the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

The history and current utility of such spaces is, as their study reveals, a story that extends far beyond the horticultural and botanical realms, into social, political and economic history. In A Veritable Eden Ann Brooks introduces us to the “chequered history including national fame and financial disaster” of Manchester Botanic Garden, which existed from 1831 to 1908. This meticulously researched book explores not only the role of the Garden in local social life, but also the local political intrigues, personality clashes and mismanagement that ultimately doomed the garden. This is exemplified in the way that an un-Victorian attitude to financial prudence (commissioning ambitious building works when finances were in poor shape) collided with a very Victorian snobbery: by refusing to allow the paying general public entry to the Garden more than one afternoon a week, a funding stream that may have saved the Garden was effectively curtailed. To paraphrase the author, exclusivity was more important than income.

This was not the only policy that appears inexplicable to the modern reader. Early in its history the subscribing, largely middle class membership of the Garden made it clear that pleasurable perambulations around the site were all that they were interested in, and any pretence to education went when “in 1848 science was eliminated and the horticultural garden…was dismantled”. In this regard it was undoubtedly the people of Manchester, rather than botanical science per se, who were the principle losers, as the large botanic gardens of European capital cities dominated plant exploration and plant science up to the present day. Nonetheless the policy jars with Victorian notions of self-improvement.

A Veritable Eden originated as Dr Brooks’ PhD thesis and in general it is engagingly written, demonstrating the author’s fascination for her subject, and well illustrated with material from her personal collection and elsewhere. But there are some places where a firmer editorial hand would have made for a better book. It is clear that a few small sections have been replicated from the thesis out of context, for example a paragraph about the role of a “putter-out” on pp. 60-61. On p. 91, to give another example, we read that a Garden report concluded that “the Curator should be charged with ‘gross ignorance and mismanagement’ and that he should be replaced”; this is repeated, only three lines later, as “a charge of ‘gross ignorance and mismanagement’ should be brought against [the Curator]”. Finally, to anyone with a botanical, as opposed to historical, training the misspelling and misrendering of scientific names for some plants will jar, such as “Dickensonia” for Dicksonia and “Victoria Regia” for Victoria regia (itself an old synonym, the plant is now called Victoria amazonica).

Such editorial oversights detract only a little from the telling of the story of Manchester Botanic Garden and could easily be rectified if the book goes to a second edition. Which I hope it does; it’s a great contribution both to the local history of the city and to our understanding of the history of provincial botanic gardens.

 

References

Brockway, L.H. (1979) Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Garden. Yale University Press.

Endersby, J. (2010) Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. University of Chicago Press.

Ollerton, J., Chancellor, G. & van Wyhe, J. (2012) John Tweedie and Charles Darwin in Buenos Aires. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 66: 115-124

 

Originally published as:  Ollerton, J. (2014) Book review of: “A Veritable Eden” by A. Brooks. Manchester Region History Review 25: 153-154

 

 

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Six Kingdoms for Christmas: the cultural biodiversity of a winter festival

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Since beginning this blog in 2012 I’ve traditionally posted one or two Christmas-themed items around this time of year, including a piece on “Thanking the pollinators for Christmas” and a true story from 2013, “A Christmas vignette“.  The role of pollinators in producing much of the traditional Christmas fare has subsequently been picked up by others (last year the University of Bristol, this year a blog from Trinity College Dublin) so I’ve decided to break with tradition and consider the ways in which biodiversity (both wild and farmed, though the latter of course originated as the former) adds to the cultural experience of Christmas through its traditions and rituals.

In this regard I’m coming at the topic as a north-European agnostic who values Christmas as an opportunity to relax and unwind at the darkest, coldest* part of the year, rather than as a Christian.  And because I’m a British scientist much of what I say relates to British customs, though I’ve tried to include non-British examples where I’m aware of them – feel free to let me know about examples I’ve missed by commenting below.

I’ve decided to structure this post taxonomically and focus on a Six Kingdom Classification** of life on Earth as that’s been the theme of my first year undergraduate teaching since October.  Four of the six Kingdoms can be dealt with fairly quickly as their significance to Christmas is marginal or non-existent.  The two “bacterial” Kingdoms (Archaea and Eubacteria) contribute little to Christmas other than providing much of the gut flora that’s going to help us digest our Christmas dinner. Important but not specifically festive.  Likewise the protists and algae (Kingdom Protoctista) add nothing specific to Christmas unless there are traditions associated with seaweed of which I am unaware.

The other three Kingdoms are the ones where cultural biodiversity associations are more apparent.  The Kingdom Fungi (yeasts, mushrooms and moulds) provides us with several Christmas traditions including (in Germany) hanging mushrooms on the Christmas tree for good luck, and in parts of Scandinavia hanging strings of dried mushrooms around the house as decorations and as a source of winter food.  There is also the association between the red-and-white colour scheme of fly agaric magic mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) and the robes of Santa Claus, though I’ve seen that idea debunked in a few places and it appears that the “traditional” interpretation of Santa’s suit originated in the USA in the 19th century.

The Kingdom Animalia (both invertebrates and vertebrates) affords us a host of cultural connections to Christmas.  Birds include the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) which in times past were famously walked to London from Norfolk; the domestic goose (Anser anser domesticus); and much of the song Twelve Days of Christmas refers to birds, including the turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) one of the UK’s most declining and threatened bird species.  Mammals we associate with Christmas include of course reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) pulling Santa’s sleigh, led by the nasally-advantaged Rudolph, but also domesticated farm animals.  For example in Denmark in osme households it’s more traditional to eat pork (Sus scrofa domesticus) for Christmas dinner than goose.

Staying with the vertebrates, in our house it’s traditional to have smoked salmon (Salmo salar) with scrambled eggs for breakfast on Christmas Day, and (again in Denmark) sild (Clupea harengus) is also traditionally served as a starter, but I don’t know of other fish traditions.  Likewise I’m unaware of any invertebrates that are specifically associated with Christmas, though there have been recent reports of sustainably-sourced lobsters (Homarus americanus and H. gammarus)  becoming “traditional” in Europe.  There are also some local traditions such as honey bees singing in their hives on Christmas Eve.

The last of the Six Kingdoms is the Plantae, which, whilst the least taxonomically diverse, provides us with a wealth of cultural associations to Christmas.  These traditionally include evergreen plants that have been used to decorate homes, probably since the earliest pagan Yuletide festivals, such as: Christmas trees (various conifers in the genera Picea, Abies and Pinus); European ivy (Hedera helix); holly (Ilex aquifolium); and mistletoe (Viscum album).  However such traditions evolve and adapt to local needs and availability of plants.  For example in North and South America other genera of conifers not found in europe, such as Pseudotsuga and  Araucaria, may be used as Christmas trees***.  Likewise the absence of European mistletoe in North America means that people have adopted native mistletoes in the related genus Phoradendron for decorating and snogging traditions.  Over at her blog, ecologist Manu Saunders has recently discussed how native Australian species can substitute European plants for Christmas decorations.

The final example from the Plantae is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) which I’ve pictured above.  In many ways this is an unusual plant to have such a strong cultural association with Christmas: it’s a mildly toxic species of spurge from tropical Mexico that was introduced to North America in the 19th century, then subsequently to Europe.  However its festive connotations date back to the earliest period of Spanish colonisation in the 16th century, so it’s older than some of the other Christmasy traditions I’ve discussed.

Of course biodiversity is about more than just species and taxonomic diversity, it also encompasses the diversity of habitats in which that life is found.  Here too we see strong influences of the natural world on the culture of Christmas, including festive scenes of snow-bound boreal conifer forest.  As our planet warms, however, that might be a view that is found only on Christmas cards and old movies, rather than directly experienced*.

And on that sobering note, I wish all of my readers and restful and biodiverse holiday: have a great Christmas everyone!

 

*Ha!  It’s looking to be the warmest December on record, and at times has felt more like early summer than mid-winter.

**I’m aware that there are other Kingdom-level classifications out there which could be used, but the Six Kingdom approach is a good starting point.

***Closer to home, colleagues in the office adjacent to mine have adorned their large weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) with home-made Christmas decorations.  Looks good.

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