Herbology Manchester

Plant models at the Manchester Museum Herbarium

Plant models at the Manchester Museum Herbarium

Herbology Manchester: Stories from the Manchester Museum Herbarium is the blog that originally alerted me to the fascinating work of this herbarium.  When I was in England last year, I took a long train ride up from London to visit it, and the trek was well worth it.  The herbarium is housed in the attic of the Museum’s original gothic building from the 1880s.  I visited just as the renovation of the facility was getting underway.  Compact shelving was being installed in one area so there are Solander boxes piled everywhere awaiting reshelving.  I am glad that I got to see  it before it was all refurbished.

The herbarium often does public tours based on the Harry Potter theme and before the renovation, its rooms re perfect for it:  looking out over pointed arches and magnificent Victorian roofs, one room with piles of old books including a early edition of Nehemiah Grew’s anatomy of plants, another with early 20th century wax and papier-mâché models of plants and plant parts (Figure 2), still another with dozens of wooden boxes filled with 19th-century microscope slides.

Rachel Webster, Curator of Botany, showed me highlights of the collection, including specimens from Charles Bailey, with a British and European scope, and Cosmo Melville, with a global scope.  They were wealthy Manchester patrons of the museum who left their large collections to the herbarium.  In a different vein, Leo Grindon’s collection is more horticultural in perspective.  Webster described it as having a scrapbook feel because of the number of articles and images found in among the specimens.  Finally, the most botanically important specimens are the 16,000 collected by Richard Spruce; these are mostly South American hepatics.

The Herbology Manchester blog has frequent posts with updates on the work of the herbarium, the progress of the renovation, and the outreach programs the museum sponsors.  There are also posts labeled “Specimen of the Day” that present information about a specific plant such as Tamarind along with photos of the live plant and of herbarium specimens, including some from the museum’s extensive economic botany collection.

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