Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2017

Winter and the sacred lotus

Late summer seems like a lifetime ago now the days are short and we’ve seen the first frosts of the season. But, if I cast my mind back to the first time I stepped into our tropical glasshouse this summer, as a shiny new trainee….I wiped clean my foggy glasses and was immediately blown away by the stunning Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), in full flower in the pool. The vibrant colours and sheer height of the flowers looked stunning against the backdrop of green foliage in the glasshouse.
The Sacred Lotus is a fascinating plant that’s been cultivated in China for over 3,000 years. It’s now grown around the world, not just for the gorgeous flowers, but for deep cultural and religious significance to Hindus and Buddhists, as well as a source of medicine and food.
It didn’t occur to me on that first day quite how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep this beautiful plant at its best every year. Over the last few months I’m very privileged to have found out how to grow the lotus first…

Native American foods

Having worked as a trainee at the Botanic Garden for nearly two years I am now coming to the end of my time with the garden. I have learned more than I thought possible to learn in just two years, have gained my RHS qualifications, have had the opportunity to work with an amazing range of plants and have acquired a huge amount of practical horticultural experience. Best of all, I have had the opportunity to work alongside some very wonderful people who have shared their knowledge and passion with me and have made me feel very welcomed into this beautiful community. 

In terms of my horticultural work here at the garden, my favourite part of this last year has been my project to work on the Native American Vegetable display. This included everything from designing the planting lay out, propagating and maintaining the plants, through to harvesting the food and collecting the seeds. Therefore, for this article I want to share with you some of the fascinating information I’ve learnt about t…

The Garden blog

By Andy Winfield
Here at the Botanic Garden we’ve decided to take a slight change of direction on the blog; while there will still be science based items, there will be much more about the day to day running of the Garden and various experiences of the small team who work here. There may be items from volunteers or staff and the subject matter will be diverse, you will be surprised at the areas of life plants take us.
First, an introduction; I’m Andy, a career change, I’d done this and that, warehouse work to office work ending as a Costs Draftsman for a Bristol Law firm. It was at this point I considered my future working life stretching ahead and didn't like it; and so I shifted direction and embarked on a career in horticulture. This was a good move! After a two-year course I landed a job at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, this was 2001 and the little-known Garden was tucked away in woods beyond Bristol’s famous suspension bridge spanning the Avon Gorge. The gardeni…

The new Australian display

By Helen Roberts The newly established Australian display is thriving at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden. This new area has been developed over the last year few years with the aim of introducing visitors to the captivating flora from the Mediterranean climatic region of Western and Southern Australia. The new display is part of the strategic plan for the Garden and follows on from the creation of the Mediterranean and southwest South Africa zones (N Wray 2017, personal communication, 27th July). 
This display aims to broadly showcase some of the hardier plants of Western and Southern Australia but also concentrates on the highly diverse flora of the "Kwongan", one of a number of special habitats that make up the Southwest Australia ecoregion. This ecoregion is acknowledged worldwide as one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. 
Kwongan is the aboriginal term used for the mixed waxy leaved shrubland and heathland assemblage found in the southwest of …

The potential of honey: a highly topical application

By Helen Roberts The one animal that springs to most people’s mind for eating honey is bears. Especially a particularly round individual who gets his hand stuck in the honey pot numerous times. However, many animals around the world, including raccoons, skunks, opossums and honey badgers, feast on honey. They brave the fury of the hive to not only get at the sweet sticky stuff, but for the protein obtained from eating the bees and larvae themselves. We humans are fussier and prefer to stick to just the honey, though some people will eat honey on the comb.

For centuries, honey has been recognised not only for its culinary uses but its medicinal uses, due to its antimicrobial properties. The potential scope of honey in medicine is vast and still developing despite its use since ancient times; the ancient Egyptians and Greeks commonly used honey to treat wounds. Research into the medicinal properties of honey is ongoing and not only restricted to its use in promoting wound healing, but …

Walking among bees with Steven Falk

By Nicola Temple I thoroughly love watching insects visit my garden (aphids and a few other pests excepted). However, I have to admit that beyond broad groupings, bumblebee, honey bee, hover fly, fly etc, I’m not very good at identifying them down to species. This clearly isn’t necessary to enjoy them, but I do find that when I know a species, when I know its routines and habits (as much as anyone does), then I have a deeper appreciation for them. So, when the University of Bristol Botanic Garden offered a bee identification workshop with Steven Falk, I signed myself up.
Steven Falk has had an interest in insects since his childhood in London in the 1960s and 70s. Insects inspired his artwork and his skill as an artist earned him the honour of illustrating the book British Hoverflies, which he began working on when he was only 15. He has gone on to illustrate and write many publications since, including my newly acquired Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland (Bloomsbury

The pretty peony - a flower of culture

By Helen Roberts The peony has undeniably beautiful flowers, from the perfect spherical bud giving a hint of the petal colour underneath to the rapid unfurling of immense blooms. Even the foliage is attractive, particularly towards the end of the season when they readily take on autumnal tints.

I admire them in gardens that are not my own for I have never grown peonies, the tree nor the herbaceous species. The flowers, although staggeringly large and of sublime colours and subtle scents, are too short lived for my own small garden. After all peonies need space. However, I am looking forward to the development of a new peony garden in the University of Bristol Botanic Garden. It will form part of a new ‘Culture’ display, which is being implemented this year with the help of the Chinese Garden co-ordinator, Tony Harrison, who is a traditional Chinese herbalist.

Peonies are native to Asia, Southern Europe and North America and are contained within the Paeoniaceae family. There are 4 di…

Beauty in Nature, Nature in Beauty

The 2017 University of Bristol Botanic Garden Sculpture Festival and Quilting Exhibition By Alida Robey
I have to confess that my expectations were low when I entered the University of Bristol Botanic Garden on Easter weekend to explore the sculpture festival. I have been to a few of these types of events over the years, none of which have done much to enhance either the setting or the ‘nicknacks’, described as art, on display.  I tend to favour simple uncluttered  gardens, focused on plants. My preconceived ideas were soon turned on their head, however, by the huge crowds queuing to get in and people milling about happily in the gardens. The right balance had been beautifully struck between fine art and very accessibly ‘buyable’ items. 
This year’s festival was the busiest yet with a record 4,729 people coming through; this annual Easter weekend event has been gaining in popularity with 2,459 people in 2013, 2,889 in 2014, 3,156 in 2015 and 3,161 in 2016. The exhibition effectively s…

Gardening keeps us grounded

By Helen Roberts Sir David Attenborough once said: Connect with Nature in any way you can. Contact with the natural world isn’t a luxury – it is actually a necessity for all of us. All we know about the natural world gives us pleasure, delight, expertise, continuous interest throughout the year – joy on many occasions and solace on sad ones. Knowing about the natural world and being in contact with it is the most precious inheritance that human beings can have.It is the word ‘connect’ that is so fundamentally important in a world that often feels to many people fraught, pressured and tiring. In the ever-stressful environments that humans have to confront, be it at work or home, working in gardens for many is a tonic and a way to reconnect with the landscape. For many it brings peace, a space in which to reflect and feel restored. The physicality of gardening is not only good for the body, it is good for the soul too.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week; a campaign set up and run…

Mycoheterotrophs: the sly swindlers of the plant world

By Helen Roberts New plant species are discovered all the time. But it is not typical for plants to be discovered in areas that have been meticulously surveyed. Last year, however, a thoroughly unusual species was found on an island in the Kagoshima prefecture, Japan [1].

Gastrodia kuroshimensis neither photosynthesises nor flowers. Certainly by no means an ornamental showstopper, it is undoubtedly odd looking with fleshy tubers, the absence of leaves and no flowers. In essence, it resembles a pathetic looking fungal protuberance. Strangely enough, it is not a fungus, but a vascular plant. The fact that it does not photosynthesise means it belongs to a peculiar group of plants that are called mycoheterotrophs, which get all or some of their nutrients from a host fungi attached to a vascular plant. The newly found species, Gastrodia kuroshimensis, is what is termed ‘fully’ mycoheterotrophic in that it depends entirely on its association with the fungus throughout its lifecycle. The rel…

In the guts of bees

By Nicola Temple We hear a great deal about the beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive system and commonly referred to as the microbiome, which help us turn indigestible materials into nutrients that we can absorb. There are countless probiotic products on the market that are meant to introduce more of these beneficial bacteria into our system, enriching our microbiome. However, humans and indeed mammals are not alone in having helpful microflora in the gut.

The microbes that inhabit the guts of social bees has been of particular interest recently. These microbial communities have been studied for their role in bee health, but also as a model organism to help understand the relationship between hosts and their gut microbes, potentially providing insight into our own system.

The specialised cast of microbes The microbiome of bees is relatively simple, but very specialised. There are about eight to ten bacterial species, but different species of bee will carry different strai…