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"Eternal Plants" : A Botanical Vision of the Past.


By david


It is 26 years since I last entered the “hallowed” portals of a University, but, yesterday (Monday), I visited the University of Dundee, Scotland, to view an exhibition entitled simply “Plant Life”. I was drawn to this by the smaller print, which stated that the University Museums Collections was showing some if its 10,000-strong collection of artifacts held within its Herbareum/Herbarium, from the days when Botany was taught as a subject in its own right, as well as being an integral part of the curriculum for medical students.

Dodel-Port wallchart XXVI, orchid, Ophyris arachnites

This is a chart from a collection of 42 lecture posters entitled, “Atlas der Botanik”, an illustrated series of plant systematics created by Dr. Arnold Dodel-Port, of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and his wife, Carolina, between 1878 and 1883. Dundee University currently has 37 of the originals.

Another of the University’s important collections is due to Leopold Kny, a former Professor of Plant Physiology at the University of Berlin. Between 1874 and 1911 he created a series of 120 wallcharts ( with an accompanying 554-paged textbook – “BOTANISCHE WANDTAFELN”).Of those 120 charts, Dundee University holds 83.

Kny wallcharts, specialising in algae.

Next, come the DIATOM SLIDES. The exhibits on display were part of the collection built up by George Dickie, Professor of Botany at the University of Aberdeen, 1860-1877.

Diatom Slides by George Dickie

Diatoms are a form of algae, usually single-celled, but also found in colonies. The cells are encased in a unique silica wall (called a frustule).

This collection of wood samples was found during a clear-out of the Biological Sciences Institute in 2007. Some samples date back to the 1870s.

“Darjeeling Ferns”

Two books on display contain a selection of ferns native to Darjeeling, India. These were collected and mounted by Mrs. P.Jaffrey during the 1880s, and donated to the herbareum in 1936.

Cyclamen and Rhododendron botanical drawings, Elizabeth Philip Smith, 1927

Hummingbird Pollinators of Datura

A hand-painted chart, possibly created by staff of University College, Dundee.

Corstorphine Collection

Between the 1910s and 1940s, Robert and Margaret Corstorphine, who ran a printing and publishing business in Arbroath, Angus, collected thousands of plant specimens around the County. This is now in the University’s collection.

Gardiner Collection

William Gardiner was a Dundee umbrella-maker, and self-styled poet (so familiar, then, to many of us here on GOY, eh?), but also a keen plantsman. He published the first ever detailed account of the flora of the County of Angus (then called Forfarshire), in 1848. This was presented to the University in 1895 by the now well-known bookseller, James Thin. The photo above shows the title page, “Illustrations of British Botany and the Natural Method of Arrangement Vol II, Sedges and Grasses, Prepared and Mounted by William Gardiner, Dundee, 1849” with a pressed sample of meadow grass from Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, 1846.

Leopard’s Bane, by William Gardiner

Finally, I come to those “pickled” plants.

I became interested in alcohol-preserved specimens, or “wet collections”, as they are known, through GOY member Terratoonie’s blog on the University of British Columbia’s Botanical Garden, and John (“Botany John”) Davidson (1878-1970).

Davidson did a great deal of experimentation with the fluid preservation of plant specimens, which hitherto deteriorated after long exposure to light (the fluid turned brown, or the plant specimens turned white). At this time he was in great conflict with other experimentors, which resulted in his emigration to Canada.

Oh well, that was a great way to spend some free time. Today I’ll be back at work, drawing up drugs derived from Belladonna, seaweed, and many other plants (some things have never changed in medicine).

For you, Tt! – X

More blog posts by david

Previous post: "Big Tree Country" - Part 4

Next post: Building My Own "Chocolate Box" Planter (Part 1)



Brilliant blog. Thank you David.
Very interesting text.
Fantastic photos.

I love all the history ~
the wood samples, the pickled pictures. :o)

and .... perfect paragraphs ;o) xxx

27 Jan, 2009



27 Jan, 2009


thank you david this blog was great with my morning coffee.

27 Jan, 2009


great blog David, very interesting

27 Jan, 2009


This exhibitions looks so interesting, it's a shame it's at the other end of the country.

27 Jan, 2009


Very interesting David , you had a good day there .........

27 Jan, 2009


Enjoyed your blog & photo's very interesting.

27 Jan, 2009


That blog was briliant David. Seeing all those diferent types of plants took me back to my A level Botany days in school. I hated school but loved botany, and I still do :o)

27 Jan, 2009


Fantastic Blog David thanx 4 the Time uv spent putting it 2 gether i really enjoyed it :) Great Pics & Items :)

27 Jan, 2009


brilliant very interesting thanks for posting it.

27 Jan, 2009


~It sounds like it was a good visit David~I would have enjoyed it too!
Last year Kew opened the Shirley Sherwood gallery and they have a lovely selection of flower paintings old and new which will be a permanent exhibition of botanical art from their own 200.000 collection and 700 of Shirley Sherwoods own collection.We spent quite a while there.
If you are ever in London worth a visit!

27 Jan, 2009


Thanks most enlightening blog.

27 Jan, 2009


Many Thanks to you all for the kind comments. As you see, I can always find something to keep me going through winter, whilst waiting for the real gardening season to commence.

Hywel, you studied A-Level Botany? Do you have any memorabilia/memories of those days? If so, it would make a brilliantly interesting blog - get onto it, asap!

Arlene, I visit London c. twice a year. Kew and Wisley are two of my fave places! I do know that the Millenium Seed Bank is in dire need of support (as you have mentioned elsewhere). It is fantastic that we now have the scientific means to preserve seeds of so many plants which may soon become extinct, to survive only as preserved specimens or (in this day and age) in digital photos. Botanical painting/drawing has seen a resurgence (as I saw at last year's Gardening Scotland show), but plant and seed preservation has some way to go!

Tt, as always, I can rely on you to study my paragraphs and alert me to my spelling mistakes! I have corrected the "aritfacts", and also found two more, which you'll never see now, haha!

28 Jan, 2009


I don't have much from those days David. It was in the 60's. lol . a long time ago. I'll see if I can find anything.

28 Jan, 2009


Hywel ~ you can't be that old ! :o)
I guess you studied A-level botany in infant school ?

David ~
maybe I did notice the other spelling errors. :o)

Thought it tactful to just mention one, and then you would probably spell-check the whole blog. LOL

28 Jan, 2009


Good thing u dont Check My Spellings TT ul be on Here 4 ever telling me whats spelt Rong :) lol

28 Jan, 2009


Hi Jacque ~
I like the way you spell.
It is unique and fantastic.
Please don't change.
TT xxx

28 Jan, 2009


Id have 2 go 2 College or Uni 2 change my Righting/Spelling TT lol :)xxx

28 Jan, 2009


Jacque, you could set up your own Botany College teaching about growing from seeds and propagating plants. Please may I be your first student ? :o)

28 Jan, 2009


lol Iv not forgotten about the Seed Sowing Blog TT :) im just a little Busy @ Mo Emptying My Seedling Plugs so i can show how 2 Transfer Seedlings from The Seed Tray when their large enough 2 handle :) Also wating for some seeds 2 Germinate so i can do A Complete Blog On Start To Finish ! :)x

28 Jan, 2009


Thanks, Jacque.
David has given me some seed growing advice, also Hywel and others. So I've been lucky.
And Wohlibuli is planning a seedling blog about the square foot system. Should be good !
If you do a complete blog, I reckon that will be welcomed by lots of people. Thanks. :o)

28 Jan, 2009


U sound like an expert already TT :) Its great when Members help isnt it :)

28 Jan, 2009


I haven't sown the seeds yet Jacque.
I'm very capable of a catastrophe with all of them. :o)

28 Jan, 2009


Fascinating blog, really enjoyed reading this. I also took Botany at school along with Agricultural Science (was the only girl in the ag.sci. class, all the other girls decided they wanted to learn to type for some reason!).

28 Jan, 2009


Oh, Gillian, another specialist Botany pupil? Ag,sci., too? You must have more to tell, haha!

Now, even I can scan my project jotters from the 1960s, and save my writings and drawings from then. My dear Mum was too sentimental to throw them out, and passed them back to me quite a few years ago. I really love having those, thanks to her, remember when I did them (of course)but still, l find something new, or forgotten, to re-discover.

29 Jan, 2009


I loved doing ag.sci. because as soon as the teacher discovered I knew something about gardening he put me in charge of the cacti and the tomatoes in the school greenhouse !
Well done to your Mum for saving those, I have few items left from my school days now. It encouraged me to save more of my own children's things for them.

29 Jan, 2009


Very interesting blog and pictures. Much appreciated.

4 Feb, 2009


David, I don't know how I missed your blog. Anyway, I've read it now and its wonderful. Well done. It was very interesting to see all the plants in alcohol. It reminded me of going through the UBC pathology specimen lab. Everything in little bottles of formaldehyde. LOL.

4 Feb, 2009


Many Thanks, Gilli !

Oh, it's like being at work! When they say, "Can you send this as a specimen?" my heart sinks! Not at the thought of which part of someone is coming my way, but more the size and, therefore, the bigger splash, as it plops into the formalin, along with that chemical smell, lol!

18 Feb, 2009


LOL David. I suppose it may be a little difficult to find jars big enough to fit some parts in. And yes, I remember the smell. Ugh!

18 Feb, 2009

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