Science Photo

Darwin Samples at The Herbarium


So this week I bid farewell to the Herbarium at the University of Cambridge where I have been working with collections of Darwins samples. No, not audio samples of Darwin providing catchy phrases in his push to enlighten us with evolution, but botanical samples from his Beagle Voyage!

Read the full story of Darwins Plants from the Beagle Voyage here. The collection was put together by Henslow, who famously got Darwin his berth on the HMS Beagle and inspired him to look for variation which was pivotal in the evolution of the idea of evolution. I was also working with data from Henslows own collection as well as another prolific taxanomic botanist, John Lindley.

All the plants are preserved in mercury, meaning that we go mad if we handle them too much. Or are enforced to limit our time with them. These brown, flattened pieces of flora have been pressed on to thousands of sheets of paper and classified and re-classified as time has gone by.

The plant I’m pictured with above is actually a sample of a now extinct cucumber relative – of which the samples mounted on that sheet of paper is the only evidence it ever existed. It was nearly ruined by Prince Philip as he toured the Sainsburys Laboratory where the Herbarium is housed when the Queen was performing the official opening ceremony of the building.

I’d like to thank Christine Bartram my colleague at the Herbarium for her informative insights into these scientifically important data sets.

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