DCS1002Herbarium

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DCS: Local Heritage Event:
Visit to the University Herbarium

 

Saturday 13th February 2013


The Cambridge University Herbarium in the Department of Plant Sciences has been the most important collection of pressed botanical samples in the world for very many years. The Darwin College Society visit to the Herbarium did appear to be just in time when it was booked as it is due to be moved to another location. However the move has been delayed so we were not quite the last group to visit it in it's original surroundings. The history of the Herbarium is littered with the names of giants of science history and to enter the rooms in their original state produces awe and internal silence which few places are capable of generating. High ceilinged rooms are filled with rows of cupboards from floor upwards with narrow walkways between them. You almost feel as if one of those historical giants will walk around the corner.

Our guide around an exhibition she had chosen and laid out on some tables was Gina Murrell, Senior Assistant Curator and of Darwin College. She showed us that the cupboards were filled with folders containing wedges of paper with plants pressed on them, much as you and I would do at home but beautifully done and of course, laid out according to the famous Professor John Henslow plan. A lot of the 'million plus' sheets are aged in hundreds of years and yet they do not appear to have changed despite not being in what we expected perhaps, a modern air-conditioned, temperature-controlled environment. Only some window fans to take away any noxious odours. It is certainly credit to the skills of workers over the years.

 

Gina Murrell (left)
and our group looking at exhibits (right).

 


(Click on a picture for a larger version)

 

 
Gina also talked about the history, showed us examples from Charles Darwin's Beagle expedition, newly discovered pictures from Henslows' teaching, and plant pressings of historical importance or extinct species. She told us about modern research such as the huge possibilities of modern DNA sequencing from samples and much, much more. We were restricted to a group of 10 because of the size of the corridors but if there had been more, the questions might have been enough to miss lunch. However lunch at Darwin was taken and Gina Murrell accompanied us to answer a host more questions for which she had the answers. It was a stimulating and awe-inspiring morning and our grateful thanks go to Gina.

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