Tag Archives: Plants

A passion for plants

This week we anticipate Earth Day 2017 with an environmental theme, and highlight some botanical items in the Special Collections at the University of Southampton.  These include printed herbals and floras, dried plant specimens, and a rare example of a 19th-century herbarium. Often charming and beautifully illustrated, they demonstrate that our interest in plants and their habitats is age-old. As a historical record, they have gained in significance over time: we now appreciate that there is a historical perspective to ecological change:

William Curtis, The Botanical Magazine, or Flower-Garden Displayed, vol. 4 p.297 (London 1795) Rare Books Per Q

The botanist William Curtis (1746-1799) brought out the first issue of his Botanical Magazine in 1787.  It was an immediate success with the ‘Ladies, Gentlemen and Gardeners’ for whom it was intended – there were over 3,000 subscribers.  It tapped into the public passion for newly imported exotic plants – an essential feature of the fashionable garden – and much of its success was due to the beauty and scientific accuracy of the illustrations.

W.H. Fitch and W.G. Smith Illustrations of the British Flora: a Series of Wood Engravings, with Dissections, of British Plants, 7th ed. (London, 1908) Rare Books QK 306

This volume was used by Althea Monck, who acquired it in 1909, to create a personal botanical record. The wood-engravings of the plants she observed have been hand-coloured with great delicacy and the date and location noted. The plants identified on these pages were seen at Ash Priors in Somerset and Crowthorne in Berkshire.

Hemp Agrimony, Eupatorium Cannabinum, collected at Shawford, near Winchester in July 1838, from vol. 7 of 8 volumes of a herbarium containing pressed flowers and plants collected and mounted by Emma Delmé Radcliffe, c.1837-52 MS 219 A819/7.

This is an example of hemp, found at Shawford in Hampshire in 1838, from a 19th-century herbarium.  There are eight surviving volumes of this herbarium – from an original eleven – which contain 839 specimens of pressed flowers and plants, gathered principally between 1837 and 1840, mainly from Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Hertfordshire, but with specimens from elsewhere in the south of England and occasional examples from Scotland and Ireland.

The volumes contain plants collected and mounted by Emma Delmé Radcliffe, née Waddington (?1811-1880), the daughter of John H.Waddington of Shawford House, near Winchester. In 1831 she married Frederick Peter Delmé Radcliffe of Hitchin Priory, Hertfordshire, which became her home – a sizeable minority of the specimens are from Hitchin and neighbourhood. Emma mounted these on single sheets of paper, giving their Linnaean class and order, their Latin names (according to the Natural system of classification) and common English names, together with a location and, in many cases, a date. The collection was arranged into volumes later in the nineteenth century, perhaps as late as the 1880s.

While almost all of the specimens were gathered by Mrs Delmé Radcliffe, a few came from other herbaria: detailed research by the late Pete Selby (Recorder for south Hampshire) demonstrated that a few of the Isle of Wight specimens bore the initials of Miss Georgina Elizabeth Kilderbee (1798-1868), who lived at Cowes, and who “features in Flora Vectensis (Bromfield, 1856) as the most prolific contributor of localised records after the author himself.” It seems that Emma and Georgina were cousins and friends who worked closely together on their collections.  While there are references to a Kilderbee Herbarium – this has not survived – and so Emma’s herbarium gives a tantalising glimpse of her cousin’s work as well as a record of botany in Hampshire over 150 years ago.

For more details about the herbarium visit: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/cataloguedatabases/webguidemss219.page

Earth Day 2017 is on Saturday 22nd April: http://www.earthday.org/

Celebrating our meadows and grasses

National Meadows Day, which takes place on the first Saturday of July, has become an annual event to celebrate our meadows. There are over 100 events planned across the UK on Saturday 2 July providing the chance to visit meadows and raising awareness of this overlooked habitat. For further information go to:
http://www.magnificentmeadows.org.uk/celebrating-meadows/national-meadows-day

While it is not uncommon to find pressed flowers within the pages of an older book, finding books in which plant specimens were part of the original publication is relatively unusual. The Perkins Agricultural Library is fortunate in having seven such books of dried grasses, ranging in date from 1790 to 1896. The publications resulted from the ongoing drive to improve the quality of pastures in order to support more livestock; farmers needed to be able to identify pasture grasses accurately and for this purpose dried plant specimens were preferred to botanical illustrations.

Only one author mentions in any detail the practical problems involved in producing such a book. In his introduction to Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (Bath, 1846), which contained sixty-two specimens, Frederick Hanham wrote that 62,000 plants had to be collected and prepared, with half as many again to ensure successful specimens. Not surprisingly he described the undertaking as involving “no slight or ordinary anxiety and exertion”.

Rye-grass or Lolium Perenne in Frederick Hanham Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (Bath, 1846) Perkins f. SB197

Rye-grass or Lolium Perenne in Frederick Hanham Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (Bath, 1846) Perkins f. SB197

Broadly similar in aim, the books differ in approach. In John Milne & Sons’ British Farmer’s Plant Portfolio (1896) there are only a few pages of written description, but the grass specimens are superb and well displayed. David Moore in Concise Notices of British Grasses Best Suited to Agriculture (1851) also includes tables of the quantities of seeds of different grasses required for various purposes, whilst Hanham’s Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (1846) is an altogether different undertaking. As well as describing the plants, he also includes “instructive and appropriate extracts from the best authors”, and hopes that the reader, through nature, may look to nature’s God.

Zig zag clover in John Milne & Sons’ British Farmer’s Plant Portfolio (1896) Perkins f. SB193

Zig zag clover in John Milne & Sons’ British Farmer’s Plant Portfolio (1896) Perkins f. SB193

Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis (1816) by George Sinclair is the only book of the seven to report the results of experiments involving grasses, in this case a comparison of the nutritive qualities of grasses sown on different soils. This lavish folio volume is also unusual in containing dried seeds as well as dried grasses.  In his introduction, Sinclair wrote that the scientific study of grasses had been neglected in favour of other branches of agriculture – exactly the same opinion being expressed by Milne some eighty years later.

We do hope you enjoy taking part in National Meadows Day and perhaps you will participate in events identifying some of the grasses on view in these neglected habitats.