As September 2019 marks 100 years of the Forestry Commission, we take a look at other green items in Special Collections – botanical illustrations.
The earliest botanical illustrations were mostly to show plants used in herbal remedies, so realism was important initially, though over time illustrations became debased and merely decorative. The Renaissance brought a revival in naturalism, and from the seventeenth century an emphasis on beauty over utility prevailed, with flower painting becoming important in its own right. This continued until the advent of photography and beyond. Even now, there is no substitute for careful, accurate botanical drawing for scientific purposes, which can show different stages of a plant simultaneously such as buds and seeds.Salmon was a quack-doctor, who also drew up horoscopes and dabbled in alchemy. His herbal includes some highly poisonous plants such as Hemlock and Henbane. He advocated the use of the leaves of Deadly Nightshade as a poultice but does warn users to keep children away from the berries! This herbal also includes some herbs still used today such as St John’s Wort, used for depression and Foxglove (Digitalis), valuable in the treatment of heart problems but poisonous in larger doses. Classic herbals from an earlier era are Gerard and Culpeper, but our library only possesses more recent reprints of these important works – 1815 for Culpeper and 1975 for Gerard.
The Botanical Magazine was founded in 1787 by William Curtis and is the longest running botanical periodical featuring the coloured illustrations of plants, still produced today.
Curtis was born in Alton in 1746, but moved to London when he was twenty to set up as an apothecary, later devoting himself solely to the study of plants. From its beginnings The Botanical Magazine contained many beautiful hand-coloured engravings, initially drawn and engraved by James Sowerby, who also illustrated Curtis’ publication Flora Londinensis as well as his own English Botany, which includes lichens and mosses as well as true flowering plants.Sowerby also drew fungi, zoology, mineralogy and fossil shells. He even had a whale named after him. “This species of Iris, inferior to few in point of beauty, is a native of the hilly pastures of Hungary… It is a hardy perennial, requires no particular treatment and may be easily propagated by parting its roots in Autumn” Information not out of place in a modern gardening publication.
Later volumes of The Botanical Magazine were illustrated by Sydenham Edwards, who was a friend of Curtis and often accompanied him on botanical expeditions. In 1815, Edwards started his own publication, The Botanical Register.This differed from the Botanical Magazine by adopting a quarto format and having two or three different plants to a page, with longer descriptive text. It appears to be an adaptation of The Complete Dictionary of Practical Gardening by R. W. Dickson, published 1805-7 under the pseudonym Alexander Macdonald. The title page states “Coloured with the greatest exactness from drawings by Sydenham Edwards”.
The Botanists Repository of 1797 “for new and rare plants … as have not appeared in any similar publication”, consists of seven volumes bound into four individual books by Henry Andrews including many coloured engravings.Twinflower or Linnaea borealis was the favourite flower of the celebrated botanist Linnaeus, who devised the binomial system for cataloguing plants. However, he did not name it after himself, it being named in his honour by the Dutch botanist, J. F. Gronovius. It is nationally scarce in northern England and Scotland, but also found in northern parts of Europe, Canada and the US.