Botany South and North: A Two-Part Saga!

Poppy 2A slightly dizzying 24-plus hours, which began at 6.45 on Thursday evening, with an after-hours tour of Cambridge University Botanic Garden, conducted by the incredibly knowledgeable volunteer guide Richard Price. We started on the Brookside lawn and moved along the path towards the Old Gate (moved to its present site when the gardens were relocated in 1846), the main avenue and the ‘champion’ dawn redwood, the first to be planted in Britain from seed sent from China and raised in the Garden.

The dawn redwood's profile against the sky.

The dawn redwood’s profile against the sky.

The dawn redwood's leaves.

The dawn redwood’s leaves.

We were entertained en passant by a family of jays overhead in a flowering chestnut (Aesculus indica, from the Himalayas), the fully fledged young ones still insistent on being fed, and quite happy to ignore the human cluster a few feet below. The florets on the chestnut ‘candles’ change colour from yellow to red when they have been fertilised, thus letting bees know which ones not to bother with, and conserving their energy.

Inflorescence of Aesculus indica.

Inflorescence of Aesculus indica.

I didn’t know that before emmer (the wheat cultivated by our prehistoric ancestors in the Middle East), there was goat grass (Aegilops tauschii), a rather unimpressive little plant which none the less shows by its DNA that it is an ancestor of all the modern wheat (Triticum) family. The whole range of wheat development, up to the tallest plants and back down again to the high-yielding, short-stalked ones (less likely to be flattened by wind or flood) developed by Norman Borlaug, ‘the man who saved a billion lives’, is displayed in the genetic beds.

A drooping head of goat grass.

A drooping head of goat grass.

The developong line from goat grass and emmer to early modern wheat...

The developing line from goat grass and emmer to early modern wheat…

and the shorter stalked, higher yielding modern varieties.

… and the shorter stalked, higher yielding modern varieties.

Another new fact: apparently, the sculpture in the central fountain (which I had always assumed was a representation of Victoria regia waterlily leaves) is in fact a representation of the outline of the dawn redwood.

The fountain, surrounded by a brilliant planting of Stipa gigantea, phlomis and nepeta

The fountain, surrounded by a brilliant planting of Stipa gigantea, phlomis and nepeta

All this and much more, including a rather depressed white mulberry (see Part 2)

The rather unpromising white mulberry...

The rather unpromising white mulberry…

But (take my word for it), some of the branches have leaves at the tips.

But (take my word for it), some of the branches have leaves at the tips.

and some of J.S. Henslow’s ‘monstrosities’, plus a glass of wine! Apart from the after-hours quiet, the quality of the evening light made some aspects of the Garden not unrecognisable but strangely different: a memorable experience.

These two trees were almost certainly planted under Henslow's supervision: on the left, a cut-leafed beech, Fagus sylvatica laciniata, and on the right his graft of a weeping birch on to the trunk of a normal birch.

These two trees were almost certainly planted under Henslow’s supervision: on the left, a cut-leafed beech, Fagus sylvatica laciniata, and on the right his graft of a weeping beech on to the trunk of a normal beech.

The grafted beech, Fagus sylvatica Miltonensis, which the change of bark at the point of graft. The naming of Milton is a nice literary touch!

The grafted beech, Fagus sylvatica Miltonensis, with the change of bark at the point of graft. The naming after Milton is a nice literary touch!

There followed a (not so dizzying) period of sleep, interrupted only by Max the Cat (as usual), and my own subconscious concern that I would fail to wake up, and  miss the train (not so usual). At an hour at which I would prefer not to be conscious, I staggered down to the station, for a day-trip north of the Trent!

Cambridge to Peterborough, ho hum. Peterborough to Retford, and then a disconcerting walk along a country path to a platform some distance away from the station, and underneath the rail tracks on which I had arrived – I’ve never been on a real rail crossroad before.

The lower rail platform at Retford, with the main track overhead.

The lower rail platform at Retford, with the main track overhead.

The rural view from the platform.

The rural view from the platform.

A two-coach train with wide seats and deep windows then carried us with a stately clanking to Sheffield, past Adlestropian stations, and tracksides, embankments and field headlands exuberantly decorated with wild flowers.

There were waterfalls of dog-roses, cascading down twenty feet from the trees which supported them, honeysuckle, field poppies, ox-eyed daisies, elder, purple loosestrife, white and purple foxgloves, larkspurs, and some garden escapees, including light purple oriental poppies, a philadelphus, lupins, and bright crimson antirrhinums sprouting from crevices in the stones lining the embankment as we trundled downhill into Sheffield. And if this wasn’t all amazing enough, there was a pair of llamas (or alpacas?) in a field …

FoxglovesPoppies

I’ve cheated on the pics, as the pace of the train was not quite slow enough to allow photography: these images are from the wilder parts of CUBG, but they give some idea of the wonderful botanical variety on display. In the next installment: I arrive in Sheffield, and make my way to the 13th Floor…

Caroline

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3 Responses to Botany South and North: A Two-Part Saga!

  1. Pingback: Botany South and North: The Saga Concludes! | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

  2. Pingback: Retirement: Four Months In | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

  3. Pingback: Plant of the Month: November | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

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