Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Kew at the British Museum: North American Landscape

Banner high – the Perennial Lupin with its bumblebee – invites all visitors to the British Museum to explore the North American landscape ... without leaving central London.
British Museum's banner

Silly me – goes in to the Museum and asks where’s the display – outside they say!!  So outside I go – and yes the ‘flower bed’ in front of the Museum has been planted up as a trail through the Florida swamps, the Missouri prairie to the forests of New England and Canada.

For the past five years the Royal Botanical Society, Kew have teamed up with the British Museum to create a landscape on the Museum’s West Lawn (I see that’s what it is called!) ....

.... bringing Kew into the heart of London – and by wandering through the landscape, visitors can discover more about the relationships between humans and plants – from Native North Americans and new world encounters to modern conservation projects.

British Museum as the backdrop to the North American
landscape on the west lawn
Each of the planting areas was labelled up, the plants marked, and the areas were given brief annotations ... while the landscapes have been themed to complement the public programmes at the British Museum and Kew.

So far the habitats of China, India, South Africa and Australia have been celebrated in these annual partnership programmes – combining demonstrations, talks, lectures and study sessions – supplemented with videos, a slideshow of the star plants and the general pleasure of finding a landscape vista on the Museum’s West Lawn.

Devonian Botanic Garden, Alberta, Canada
(Pinus flexillis, Eastern Rockies)

Perhaps next year I can go up and see the next landscape and follow it through the seasons – its early planting, to summer flowering, to the autumnal glow, before the plants fade into their winter dormancy.

I was at the Museum to see two other exhibitions ... but I think I need to go back to visit the North American Galleries to see some of the native peoples’ close relationship with the landscape and its vegetation, which contributed so much to early European understanding of botany and natural history.

Black Walnut
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (worldwide) is working in partnership with organisations in Canada and the USA via the Seeds of Success programme to address threats to habitats and support the re-establishment of plants and eco-systems at risk.

Paper Birch tree
Native seeds are collected and stored in seed banks in locations in North America, with duplicate collections held at Wakehurst Place – Kew’s country garden where the Millennium Seed Bank is housed.

Sweet Grass
The American organisations involved are: Bureau of Land Management; Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Chicago Botanic Garden; Zoological Society of San Diego; North Carolina Botanic Garden and New England Wildflower Society; while in Canada it is the Devonian Botanic Garden in Edmonton, Alberta.

The British Museum’s press release highlights:

·        Sweet grass (Hierchloe odorata) – that is used as incense because of its vanilla scent and is sacred to many of the indigenous peoples of North America, who believe smoke from burning dried sweet grass welcomes in good spirits.

Many of the grasses’ natural habitats of wet meadows, lake-shores, stream banks and low prairies have been lost ... so the plant is now endangered.

·        Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) is a member of the daisy family and is a prairie wildflower that thrives in open woods, meadows and pastures.

This species was first described in England in 1789 by William Aiton (1731 – 1793), the first curator of Kew Gardens, in his catalogue of plants cultivated at Kew (Hortus Kewensis).  Loss of habitat means this species is now becoming endangered.

·        Paper Bark tree was used by Native Americans to collect the sugary sap from trees like the Silver Maple, or the beautiful souvenirs made by Native women from the bark for trading.

·        Other plantings include Lupins, Echinacea, Maples, Black Walnut, Tulip Tree and carnivorous pitcher plants.    

Orange Coneflower
With the diversity of peoples we have in London, and those visiting each year, these landscape projects give everyone an opportunity to remember how diverse our planet is, yet remind ourselves that natural vegetation is under threat and many plant species face extinction ...

... by spreading the word, much as Kew and other botanic organisations are attempting to maintain the status quo of our natural vegetation, we can remind ourselves and others of the importance of our natural habitat and learn to protect it.

Let’s join together and help raise awareness of the importance of each of the world’s eco-systems and their absolute necessity to this life of ours, especially those locally around us ...

... let’s start there – preserve and nurture a little of everything ... let’s celebrate our botanical gardens, our allotments, our weed patches, our gardeners who encourage wildlife to remain with us for the centuries ahead.

The British Museum site provided much of this information, with some additional information from the Kew site.  Obviously the inspiration came from my recent visit to the British Museum.

Press release from the British Museum on this exhibition
Detailed press release from the British Museum
Youtube video (1.21m) showing landscape being created earlier this year.

Photos courtesy the British Museum site - except the Canadian one that came from the Kew article above.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Jo said...

Didn't know about these seed programmes, thanks for the info. You are always so informative. When we came to Canada, everywhere along the verges and medians for example, was mowed but nowadays such areas are left to grow wild exhibiting natural grasses and flowers and often looking extremely pretty. In North Carolina, Cape Carteret for instance, they plant huge beds of wild flowers every year which look absolutely beautiful along the sides of roads.

Mike Goad said...

Many of those flowers look quite familiar and, here in Wisconsin, where we are visiting our youngest daughter, we've seen quite a few of the paper birch trees.

Inger said...

I was thinking back on the British Museum and I can't remember an outside area there. I loved to visit all the museum while I lived in London, one of the few city living things I miss. Did you see my post the other day about the Gray Rabbit Brush that I'm trying to remove. It was important for the Native Americans of the area. Thanks for this again, you are wonderful with your information gathering and research.

D.G. Hudson said...

Totally new information to me, Hilary, and I like the idea of saving the seeds - just in case. Our heritage and especially our living specimens have to be protected.

Enjoyed this.

A Lady's Life said...

Flowers are indeed a blessing and I wish more and more were planted in the wilderness where they can flourish.Travelling cross country,I get to see the land before in spring, and the land after when it is full and rich with produce.
Miles and miles of it. It is beautiful to see the transformation.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo - Kew has a wonderful facility in Sussex. Yes - there's more roadside verges left to themselves here too ... it's letting the land do its own thing that's important too - the Cape Carteret sounds lovely .. it'd be great if it was natural - as in San Diego.

@ Mike - you'd recognise a great many of these plants I'm sure .. I expect you're having a lovely time with your daughter ... and being able to see paper birch trees .. must be fascinating. I've always loved our Silver Birch trees here ..

@ Inger - travelling up to see the Museums is a little frustrating! But at least they're not that far away ..

I did see your Gray Rabbitbrush post - and that you're trying to eradicate it from your field ... and noted that the North Americans used it as forage for animals, fuel, candy (chewing gum), dyes, arrows, brushes, and as medicine for toothaches, coughs, colds, sores and diarrhea.

Appreciate the thoughts in your comment ..

@ DG - good to see you ... and the Millennium Seed project is an amazing project ...

@ A Lady's Life - you're so right, flowers are a blessing ... and I love the changing seasons, with the bursting of blooms and leaf ..

Thank you for your comments - lovely to see you here - cheers Hilary

Old Kitty said...

I want to see this!! At the British Museum you say!!??! I'm so going!! Thank you for the info lovely Hilary! Take care

Karen Lange said...

It sounds like a delightful place to visit! I'd love to go sometime. The Seed Bank sounds interesting too. I had not known about it. Thanks Hilary, for the info!

Have a great rest of the week,

Unknown said...

I love to go to the museum and I also love the nature. It gives us so much, but still there are many people out there who don't see this. They take our beautiful planet for granted. But life is what it makes so special and also plants are alive. I totally love the varieties of flowers, and I'll definitely go to the British museum next time I'm in London ;)

Thanks for the info, have a great week.


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

The last time I went to England, I spent several days in London. It was super revisiting places I vaguely remembered from my childhood.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Old Kitty - I hope if you do get there ... it's not too wind battered and swamped with rain ...

@ Karen - it's a wonderful museum in the middle of London - fantastic exhibitions and a gorgeous Reading Room.

The Seed Bank is down in north Sussex nearish Gatwick Airport - and Wakehurst Place is a gorgeous place to visit ... lots of history as well as the Seed Bank.

@ Sanny - the British Museum is easy to get to ... while the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew are in the south-west suburbs of Outer London. But a great place to visit with their gardens, exhibitions, talks etc etc ..

You'll enjoy both of these places - when you next come over to England.

@ Sharon - there's so much to see here isn't there. I know you went to Buckingham Palace to see their summer exhibition ..

... but turn again and there's another place of interest .. I'm so lucky London is on my doorstep ..

Good to see you all .. have great days and weekends .. cheers Hilary

Anonymous said...

Lovely photos and all of this is fascinating. I'd like to visit more gardens. There are some local ones that I haven't seen yet.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Medeia - gardens are great sources of release for the mind - a good wander in the autumnal fall with those extra special earthy scents - just what I need this weekend. I hope you get to see your local gardens soon ..

Cheers Hilary

Mark Koopmans said...


We had the pleasure to live in San Antonio and the Wildflowers that were planted/seeded by the Ladybird Johnson is an amazing sight to see each Spring... Driving along the freeway you would literally see dozens of cars stopping on the edge of the road so the families could take pics of themselves in the midst of the Bluebonnets... it was awesome :)

Betsy Wuebker said...

Oh, how wonderful, and of course all of them from lupine to echinacea and paper bark to black walnut are all very familiar to this Midwest girl. The paper birches are often used as ornamentals in new home developments. While the prairies are disappearing, there is a great resurgence in keeping these native plants as part of the landscape. Even outside our cookie cutter townhouse, we've got sweetgrass and coneflower (which we also call "black-eyed Susan) in the suburban style flower gardens.

Bish Denham said...

It's wonderful that there are people who are collecting and saving seeds. They need to be preserved, particularly corn.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Mark .. wild flowers are just beautiful aren't they - and at least you know the Ladybird Johnson garden - sounds gorgeous in Spring. I've heard blue bonnets evoke much love from the public - the photos of the Blue Bonnets at the British Museum showed incredibly spreads. Fun to see in real life though ...

@ Betsy - I thought of you when I wrote the post and wondered whether it would resonate - obviously it does. We too are trying to nurture our wildlife (flora and fauna) - in this tiny island - they keep digging things up! Sweetgrass and those black-eyed Susans must be gorgeous to see ...

Still Hawaii will have new delights ahead for you ...

@ Bish - Kew does an incredible job for the Botanical Societies and the Millennium Seed Bank is just staggering in its collections. I've done a couple of posts on corn - one on the Landreth Seeds (American) and one on Tales, Sagas, Stories we can learn from our vegetables - beans, maize, squash and tomato ...

So they are being preserved through the Heritage Seeds ..

Thanks Mark, Betsy and Bish - great to see you - cheers Hilary

Ciara said...

How beautiful. I'd love to see this. My poor son would only be able to look at pictures. He's allergic to almost everything outdoors. :(

Sherry Ellis said...

I really enjoyed this post. How fascinating the a museum where you live would have a collection of North American plants!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

From what I've heard, England has some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. With the bizarre heat and drought conditions we've had in most of the U.S. this summer, that North American garden in London probably looks better than most of our gardens in North America.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ciara .. it was lovely and guess lovelier earlier in the summer.

Your poor son though - let alone you and the family .. must be tricky to put it mildly ..

@ Sherry - the plants match what's going on inside one or two of the galleries in the British Museum ... it is quite big!

@ Susan - we have beautiful gardens .. and I've written about them occasionally. The weather is playing havoc here too - nature is struggling along .. floods, drought, Olympic and Para break, back to floods again ...

Cheers everyone ... Hilary