Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Splendid Seeds – Family Friendly Afternoon at Harcourt Arboretum

It was our last family friendly afternoon for this summer at Harcourt Arboretum on Tuesday and we were all about seeds! The Splendid Seeds event was a great way to end our summer family friendlies themed to parts of a plant because at this time of year the Arboretum has many splendid seeds on display. We have seeds that look like alligators, some that look like tiny cucumbers, smooth seeds and spikey seeds, seeds that are out but somehow hidden…if you would like to see what I am describing then come along to the Arboretum and follow our Splendid Seeds trail that will run until Monday 1st September. Don’t miss your chance to see some wonderfully weird seeds chosen by yours truly! The good news is if you can’t make it until after Monday, most of our splendid seeds at the Arboretum will be visible well into autumn.
Our Splendid Seeds trail was of course accompanied by three craft activities for families that used a variety of seeds. Families could make a grass head monster, cone wind chime/mobile, and popcorn rain sticks. 
Despite having rain for the entire event there were families who braved the weather to spend the afternoon with us. We have one table outside that is covered by a shelter and even though we didn’t have high numbers, there were always people making crafts under the shelter throughout the entire event. It was great that families were able to stay around a bit longer because it gave the children time to really get into all three crafts and allowed us to get to know our visitors better.
“The craft activities are fab: seed related, accessible, good helpers.”
“We had lots of fun – loved making the rain maker – loved filling up + making my grass head monster.”
“Thank you! I love the grass seed monsters!”
“My favourite were the redwood cones on the trail.” – 7 year old participant
“Two wonderful activities. Thanks very much to everyone for their cheerful help.”
“Brilliant.” – 6 year old participant

Thank you to our wonderful volunteers this week who kept smiling and helping despite the weather conditions. Also, thank you to all the families who came along to our events this August. It was great getting to meet many new people and helping them explore the Arboretum in different ways.

Corie Edwards.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Fabulous Flowers – Family Friendly Afternoon at Harcourt Arboretum

We were all about flowers at this week’s family friendly afternoon at Harcourt Arboretum!  In late summer and autumn most visitors to the Arboretum notice seeds on a variety of trees, but many do not associate these seeds with the flowers that preceded them, or notice some of those flowers when they were in bloom.  While some trees have showy flowers that demand attention, others have subtle flowers that are easily missed.  Therefore this week’s trail highlights some of the fabulous flowers to be found at the Arboretum through the year from bright rhododendron and magnolia to understated oak and Acer.

If you would like to see which of our flowers are in bloom in August and learn about flowers that bloom at other times of the year, for instance February, come to the Arboretum this week and take part in our Fabulous Flowers trail that runs until Monday 25th August.

Eucryphia - in flower now
As always with our family friendly afternoons we had three crafts for families to make. There were stem flowers made with cut up recycled paper and a stick, six petal flowers made with recycled paper and strung up with raffia, and pipe cleaner flowers that could be big and fluffy or thin and shiny.

Children (and parents) seemed to enjoy making all three crafts with none being favoured. We had a great turnout of repeat visitors as well as new faces this week. It is great to know that families are enjoying their time with us by saying so and also by coming to multiple events.

Our event would not have been a success without the help of our two wonderful volunteers this week. Their readiness to help fold loads of bits of paper and help little ones with sellotape dispensers did not go unnoticed by staff and parents.

“I liked making the stick flowers.” - 6 ½ year old participant
“I liked making the flowers.” - 4 ½ year old participant
“It was EPIC.” - 5 year old participant
“The activities are great + the staff really good with the little ones.”
“Great flower making…excellent helpers.”
“Lovely crafts, thank you! And attentive staff.”

If you would like to participate in our summer family friendly afternoons here at the Arboretum there is just one chance left! Splendid Seeds will take place on Tuesday 26th August from 1 pm – 4 pm.  See you there!

Corie Edwards.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Brilliant Bark - Family Friendly Afternoon at Harcourt Arboretum

This week at Harcourt Arboretum our family friendly afternoon was all about bark! Bark is an essential part of trees and its look and texture vary between species. We wanted families to get a sense of this by going on our bark trail to see some of the different varieties we have on site and by gently touching the trees protective layer. From talking with children whilst they were making crafts it was clear that the favourite bark of the day came from a Prunus serrula, Chinese Cherry (it is my favourite too!). If you would like to see why and judge if it would be your favourite, come along to the Arboretum this week and take part in our Brilliant Bark Trail running until Monday 18th August 2014.

The crafts we had for the afternoon came from the pieces that naturally fall off our Pinus nigra, Corsican Pines and papery bark we collected from a Silver Birch that had to be taken down by our Arborists recently. We would never take bark off of a living tree. The families got to use these natural resources to make birch bookmarks, a matching pairs game, and a name band (depending on the length of their name the band could be a bracelet or headband or door sign).

The event went really well because of the number of participants and help from two wonderful volunteers. I thoroughly enjoyed helping to design this event and getting to work with children on their crafts in the afternoon. Families seemed to have enjoyed their time as well based on feedback we received and we had a good amount of repeat families attend who I hope will attend the next two as well.

 “I liked playing the game. I had fun.”
“I like my headband. We will come back.”
“I like making the bracelet. I liked using the bark.”
“I like making the book mark + looking at + feeling the bark”
“Lovely activity. Lots of helpful advice and guidance with great encouragement.”

Next Tuesday 19th August we will be finding out about Fabulous Flowers, for more information, please click here. Please come along from 1.00pm-4.00pm.

Corie Edwards.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Lovely Leaves - Family Friendly Afternoon at Harcourt Arboretum

At the Harcourt Arboretum we kicked off our family friendly afternoons for August this Tuesday, 5th August from 1pm to 4pm, with Lovely Leaves and will continue to have family afternoons every Tuesday this month themed to parts of a plant (to find out more, please click here).
Our activities for Lovely Leaves encompassed use of leaves from around the Arboretum as well as paper leaves. Families were able to go on a leaf trail and collect their own leaves from the ground to make the crafts, or we had a variety of leaves available for them to use. Families had three activities they could take part in - leaf friends, leaf finger puppets, and leaf nametags.

All three activities were equally popular. Families had two staff members and two volunteers to help them make their crafts and it seemed that parents and grandparents were keen on making friends too!

“Good ideas and a help to grandparents!”
“Good craft ideas. Friendly and helpful staff. Thank you x”

Overall, despite the iffy weather, we had a decent turn out of families. Thanks to our newly built shelter we were able to shield the families and crafts from the occasional rain shower.

And, even though the crafts for Lovely Leaves are put away now we will have the leaf trail out all week (until Monday 11th August) for any visitor to get a good peek at the variety of leaves we have in the Arboretum. My favourite is number 4, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, on our trail because the leaves have started to change colour and smell a bit like candyfloss!

 Our next family friendly afternoon is Brilliant Bark on Tuesday 12th August.  See you then!


 Corie Edwards.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Silent witnesses of the ages

William Dampier, a collector, known as a pirate too
One of my Biology tasks at a secondary school was to go out into the wild, collect certain plants, dry them and mount them on nice sheets of paper. I made my first herbarium and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. But it was not just fun. By walking in the woods with an atlas of plants in my hands I learnt how to identify flowers and trees and I learnt a lot of scientific names. It was a great empirical learning experience. But I did not think much about where all this information in the book came from. I did not realise that someone in the past had to find the very same plant, describe it, name it and put it in the system. I would hardly connect all the scientific descriptions with pirates or adventurous trips to remote places of the world in the past. 

However, now I know that a great number of scientific names and features of various plants are globally known thanks to collectors and travellers. They brought the plants they had found on their voyages back home and after a precise description and identification they stored the plant collections for future generations. Today, we can literally touch these beginnings of systematic science at various Herbaria in the world. Oxford University Herbaria store the oldest collections in the UK and the OBGHA is proudly collaborating on updating the collections with new specimens collected and mounted at the Botanic Garden.

HERBARIUM – a treasure behind the word

The Herbarium of
Jacob Bobart the Elder

A herbarium, as a permanent record of plant species, is a collection of dried preserved specimens. The term also refers to a building, a scientific institute where the specimens are stored and researched. Oxford University Herbaria, established in 1621, includes the oldest Herbarium in the UK and is the fourth oldest in the world. It is home to approximately 1,000,000 botanical specimens, rare botanical books, manuscripts and illustrations. The total collection comprises phanerogams, angiosperms, gymnosperms, algae, lichens, fungi, ferns, slime moulds, liverworts, mosses, hornworts. Moreover, incredible collections of fruits, seeds, pollen, wood and spirit-preserved material can be found in the Herbaria collections.

A sheet of marine plants produced as a souvenir

Lichens collection
Fungi collection

Amongst all the treasures, the Herbaria shelter 30,000 type specimens, which are of significant importance.  A type specimen is a specimen, which was first used by researchers when new species were described and to which the scientific name was formally attached. There are also some historically important collections such as the herbaria amassed by William Sherard, Charles Du Bois, William Dampier or John Sibthorp. Moreover, a great prominence is given to the collections of plants which are now extinct in the wild.

Is the physical material so important?

We already know that the herbarium is a collection of dried plants that has been brought and collected together from across the world. But why is it so important to collect plants, dry and store them for other generations? Well, there are a couple of reasons that have encouraged the collectors and botanists to gather plants for centuries. As Dr Stephen Harris, the curator of Oxford University Herbaria, explained: “Plant collections allow us to identify and locate plants in time and space, to answer fundamental questions about plant evolution and reveal the diversity of plant life.” 

Furthermore, herbaria are essential for:
  • the study of plant taxonomy
  • the study of geographic distributions
  • the stabilising of nomenclature
  • gathering information about population, climate, and scientific and historical changes

Researchers from many disciplines find the collections very useful.  For instance, they use the collections as sources of DNA for phylogenetic analysis, of pollen for climate change analysis and of stems for carbon dating.

The process of creation

The plants collected in a field or in gardens (in our case at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum) are spread flat on sheets of newsprint and dried in a plant press, usually between cardboard sheets. When dried, the specimens are mounted onto sheets of acid-free paper by using a special acid-free paper tape, acid-free linen thread or pH-neutral glue. Soft or bulky parts of plants, as well as fruits and seeds are put into paper or display envelopes. As paper was expensive in the past, multiple specimens were mounted on one sheet and bound into a book (e.g. the Herbarium of Jacob Bobart the Elder). The modern preference is to mount one specimen per sheet. The sheets are then sealed into plastic bags, frozen and then acclimatised back to room temperature. An important part of such a sheet is a label with all the important information about the plant: the name and the family of the specimen, locality, description of the plant, accession number, date of collection and who has collected it. All this information comes from the database connected to BRAHMS, into which it was typed soon after collection.

Malus 'Ormiston Roy'
(mounted specimen)

Malus 'Ormiston Roy'
(living plant)

Magnolia sieboldii ssp. sinensis

Magnolia sieboldii ssp. sinensis

Nearly four centuries of botany lie on the sheets of herbaria. The dried samples have witnessed the progress of botany from the early steps of first collectors, who tried to transform the unknown wild plants into precisely described and named scientific specimens, towards the molecular approaches of modern scientists. It is a great pleasure to continually update these collections and become a part of that history... the history of beautiful botanical collections with great historical value and significant contribution to science.

Veronika Zvijakova
(Erasmus student at the Botanic Garden)