Survey of Flowering Plants Stored in Fluid Preservatives Across European Herbaria

Written by Ranee Prakash, Senior Curator (Flowering Plants), Algae, Fungi and Plants Division, Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, London.

A survey of flowering plant material stored in various fluid preservatives across several European herbaria/institutions was carried out a few years ago. The feedback received from the survey is shared and shows that the majority of the herbaria use 70% IMS (industrial methylated spirit) to store their collections.

Introduction

The seed plant collections (stored in various liquids such as formalin, some have unknown liquids, and some mention poison) form a relatively small yet significant part of the botanical holdings at NHM (Natural History Museum). They include some important material dating back to the mid 1800’s and type collections such as the world’s largest flower Rafflesia arnoldii collected by Robert Brown. However, these wet collections have remained a somewhat underused asset and are in dire need of curatorial attention.

In continuation to this aim, a survey of flowering plants stored in spirit collections across various institutions in Europe was carried out in 2012 so as to assess what preservatives other institutions were using and what would be the best method to store the collections at NHM for posterity. The objective of this survey was to gather information on:

  • How big the spirit collection is
  • How the collection is used
  • Which liquid preservatives the flowering plant collections are stored in

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Brendel Plant Model Survey

Written by Donna Young, Curator of Herbarium, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool

Inspired by the project led by the Corning Museum of Glass, which looked at holdings of Blaschka models, I am embarking on a project to map and document collections of Brendel botanical models worldwide.

The objective of this project is not only to provide a useful resource to be used in the curation of anatomical models, but to document their past and present use – promoting and bringing awareness of these collections to new audiences.

Brendel model Papaver rhoeas
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum

Anatomical Models

The nineteenth century was the golden age of scientific discovery, and as the century progressed, the teaching of science in schools, academies and museums evolved to reach a new mass public audience. Science was no longer the exclusive preserve of an elite few.

Changing teaching techniques promoted this transformation and pedagogical inquiry was seen as a constructive and involved way of learning. The written and spoken word was supported by the use of visually instructive wall charts and classroom demonstrations. The introduction of interactive teaching models encouraged audiences to understand nature using new and original perspectives.

Botanical models were used to illustrate and demonstrate plant anatomy. Unlike living material, their use was not restricted by seasonal availability and they were ideal for demonstrating small or ephemeral details which are difficult to preserve.

In 1827 Louis Auzoux established his workshop in France, manufacturing human and veterinary anatomical models from papier-mâché. The company also produced botanical models, which were widely distributed to universities and schools in France, particularly to support the expansion in teaching agricultural science.

Brendel model Centaurea cyanus ‘dissected’
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum

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Transforming Scientific Natural History 3D Data into an Immersive Interactive Exhibition Experience

Interspectral is a Swedish company that provides an interactive exhibition system called Inside Explorer using 3D volumetric scanning, such as CT and micro CT, real-time graphics visualisation and a large touch table to enable gallery visitors to interactively explore natural history subjects using modern science techniques.

Inside Explorer is today used at museums worldwide, for example the British Museum, Natural History Museum London, Utah Natural History Museum, Denver Museum of Science and Nature and many more.

A recent collaboration between Interspectral and Wakehurst; Kew’s wild botanic garden for their Millennium Seed Bank Visitor Atrium, has resulted in some spectacular results. These can be seen in the specially commissioned Secret Structures exhibition. The Inside Explorer system at the exhibition enables visitors to the Millennium Seed Bank to not only marvel at plants, but to learn from them and to understand our need to protect them. The Inside Explorer Digital Table invites them to peel back the layers of intriguing, scanned objects from RBG Kew’s collections; a Brazil nut, a piece of oak, an orchid and a carved walnut shell.

© Kew Gardens

Wakehurst and Interspectral worked with London’s Natural History Museum’s imaging labs to micro CT scan the subjects for the exhibits. These were then produced for exhibition by Interspectral and Wakehurst.

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