This week has mainly been about orientation and meeting people. I’ll be working in the Botany Department for the next 3 months and I spent some of my time finding out what goes on there as well as elsewhere in the Museum.
Here are some of the activities I got involved in during my first week …
In the Herbarium we looked out a nice set of tulip illustrations along with mounted plants to display in the Museum Café for a Book Club meeting on 28 May focusing on Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach.
Whilst doing this we found a Drugstore beetle (Stegobium paniceum) and some damage it had caused amongst the plant items, so we did a bit of pest management. The entire items were sealed in plastic and popped in the freezer for 3 weeks while I was privileged to vacuum the box with the new super-duper hand-held cleaner! The beetle is also known as the Bread beetle or Biscuit beetle, its presence being betrayed by ‘frass’ (‘refers loosely to the more or less solid excreta of insects, and to certain other related matter’ – Wikipedia).
For an upcoming event – ‘Urban Naturalist: Spring wild food forage‘ – we chose some specimens of edible plants. These were put into protective plastic wallets so they could be handled at the event. The plants chosen were Allium ursinum (Wild Garlic), Urtica dioica (Nettle) and Sambucus nigra (Elder).
The items in the collections at the Museum are logged onto a database called KE EMu. As an introduction to its use, David Gelsthorpe took me through the the process of accessioning a fantastic newly-acquired ichthyosaur head and then demonstrated how its accession number is glued onto it. Can you spot it?
After a tour of the Herbarium with Rachel Webster, the Curator of Botany, I spent a happy afternoon getting some hands-on experience of entering bulk accession lots of plants onto KE EMu.
The Assistant Curators get together regularly for an activity which gives them chance for discussion. On Thursday I joined them in cleaning and repairing boxes – these ones contained cotton specimens.
Jars of seeds were also cleaned and came up beautifully:
The beautiful ceramics in the next picture were created by Jade Ashton, a student at the Manchester Metropolitan, who’s taken inspiration from the botany collection, and she also used some unwanted jars from Entomology in her work. Her degree show is this week.
One of the small cases in the vivarium is to be redone with a display of frogs at different stages of vulnerability (right up to being extinct) and Rachel had been asked for some herbarium sheets of medicinal rain forest plants to provide a backdrop. Some sheets had already been looked out and I spent some time checking which species were relevant, seeing if there were any more attractive sheets or sheets in better condition in the Herbarium and finding out some information to go with them.
The plants that had been looked out were cinchona (from which we get Quinine), Vinca rosea or Madagascan rose periwinkle which provides important anti-tumour agents and wild yam (Dioscoraea composita). Diosgenin extracted from Dioscorea composita was instrumental in the development of the combined oral contraceptive pill in the 1960s – and also for the development of cortisone treatments of arthritis. There was also a specimen of Strychos toxifera, one of the two plants from which curare is made, along with Cinchona bark specimens in attractive glass cases and some Calabar beans.
In Friday afternoon, I met Dmitri Logunov, Curator of Arthropods and the Assistant Curator, Phil Rispin. Dmitri gave me an extremely useful whistle stop tour of taxonomy and nomenclature and an explanation of the meaning of the various ‘type’ specimens before showing me round the section.
This amazing collection is among the top three in the UK and I was so engrossed I failed to take any photos! (However, the photo at the top of the blog is a blow-up of the wing of a Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing butterfly – I love the structure and the way it looks just like leaves). Our discussion gave me lots of food for thought about projects I might work on during my time in the department later this year.