Curators of the Caribbean part II: Following in Dr A Broughton’s Footsteps

We started our first day of plant collecting early on the 28th September. Armed with data relating to the specimens collected by Broughton and the localities, we took a team of botanists with us into searing heat and high humidity to the top of a mountain and were very fortunate not to get into danger as there is plenty in the scrub. Land is reclaimed illegally for growing marijuana and producing charcoal so we had to be careful and often dogs are used to keep people away. This also meant that the habitat is much changed and so finding the necessary specimens to bring back was not always possible but we did manage to find some corresponding records.

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From left to right Dr Philip Rose, Patrick Lewis, Vicky Purewal, Rhian Rowson, Keron Campbell and Patrick Plummer (machete wielder, which was useful for cutting paths through the vegetation).

Prior to our expedition, Keron Campbell, botanist at the Natural History Museum of Jamaica drove us to the University of the West Indies. We met with Patrick Lewis the herbarium curator and Dr Phillip Rose, the botanical lecturer at the University. We were later joined by Patrick Plumber, the University technician. We visited the collection and learnt about the flora of Jamaica which consists of c.2,700 specimens of flowering plants and 600 ferns. The herbarium had mainly been collected in the late 1800s by renowned Irish botanist William H Harris (1860-1920) who was the former superintendent of gardens and plantations in Jamaica. He discovered a large number of species new to science. We were impressed that the 36,000 specimens were well cared for, re-mounted onto archival card and all strapped and not adhered with PVA, a practice the Jamaican botanists were not in favour of.img_1919

One of the first specimens we saw when entering the University was this one. Not such an impressive image I’m afraid but great to see. Patrick Lewis grew this specimen 4 years ago and it is yet to flower, but it is the endemic  Broughtonia sanguinea R.Br. This is the orchid believed to have been named after our own intrepid Dr Arthur Broughton. The R.Br. refers to the authority that named this specimen and this was Robert Brown, the very man responsible for Brownian motion and the scientific use of microscopes. Worryingly he has been quoted as referring to Broughton as a fellow Scot, however we know Broughton to have been brought up in England, and his father the Reverend Thomas Broughton moved to the parish of Bedminster, Bristol in 1744. His 5 siblings were English, but Broughton did study medicine in Edinburgh, so this could be the reason…we have gained a few more leads since being out here in Jamaica but our search for more information continues …

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