meiosis.org.uk is a small site that offers information on collectors / botanists who were active mainly in the Nineteenth century – though some included here fall outside that time frame. Their collections are held in many libraries, herbaria, schools and local archives scattered throughout the British Isles. They represent an important and valuable resource. The early naturalists had a particular passion for collecting ‘things’ , from shells (Cosmo Melvill), to arthropods (Frederick Haines) and plants (Charles Bailey). They were keen to record the patterns of variation within and between plant (and animal) populations as a way towards an understanding of ‘the nature of the species’.
Herbaria and animal collections were a means of studying the natural history of plants and animals. Darwin, for example, was instructed in the basics of botany partly through the examination of the dried specimens in John Henslow’s collection at Cambridge. Darwin’s subsequent careful labeling of his botanical specimens was important in establishing the endemic nature of the Galapagos Flora.
In more recent times, plants from the Cambridge herbarium have been used to examine how stomatal frequency has changed over the last 150 years. The leaves of native trees in South East England now have 40% less stomatal pores than those collected at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. This seems to be a response to changing levels of carbon dioxide. Detailed records and maps of the distribution of species over time can also be valuable in understanding how our flora is changing, the impact of invasive species and the possible effects of changing climate.
The aim of the site is to provide some information about the collectors whose sheets are included in the H@H project, which is organised by the BSBI and Tom Humphrey (HerbariaUnited is the website of the Botanical Collection Managers Group (BCMG), a specialist group of the Linnean Society of London.)
As sheets are transcribed and accumulate on the database so a picture of any given collector’s botanising emerges. It is sometimes useful for H@H volunteers to have some background information on the collector; it is with this in mind that the brief biographies (together with, where possible, a sample of the handwriting) are offered here.
It is hoped that those who have researched or have particular knowledge of any given collector will contribute to this site, sharing their information and expertise (any material submitted will, of course, be acknowledged in full). Much of the information has been gleaned from periodicals such as the Journal of Botany, The Phytologist, and the transactions of various local natural history societies; these are often available at www.archive.org, which is a valuable resource. Desmond’s ‘Dictionary Of British And Irish Botanists And Horticulturists‘ is a wonderful repository of information but not always easily accessible. The summaries offered here should be available to anyone at the ‘click of a mouse’.
The images from sheets are used with the permission of H@H and the BSBI. Material has been taken from books / periodicals that are believed to be out of copyright. If any material or image has been inadvertently used, then we apologise and would hope to be able to obtain the owner’s consent if possible – otherwise it will be removed.