Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Botanischelaufsteg (model plants in Berlin)


I saw this beautiful pea-flower in the Berlin's botanic garden, but not outdoors, not in the glasshouse and not in a vase in the Director's office. I visited all these places, seeing some of the 22,000 different kinds of plants on display (second only to Kew in terms of diversity in the living collection), but it was in the botanical museum where I found this charming bloom.

The botanic garden's full name is Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem. Even with my limited German vocabulary I can work that one out. As it happens there are very few fully blown 'botanical museums' in the world - Berlin markets it as 'the only Botanical Museum in Central Europe'. Kew has an economic botany display, Adelaide has a newly restored museum of economic botany and I remember some models of flowers in the herbarium in Paris. But not many are as comprehensive and interesting as this one. It's certainly impressive. I had time for a very rushed visit unfortunately. I gave the botanic gardens a similar superficial viewing but managed to visit 'the world in a garden' as its director Adolf Engler put it back in the early twentieth century.


Funily enough this was a statement I thought I'd invented a hundred years later when I was trying to work out what Sydney's botanic garden was all about. For Engler, this was translated into a garden arranged by what is called phytogeography - where plants grow. So you get some pretty landscapes like these representing the forests of the Northern Hemisphere mostly (other parts of the garden work to varying degrees).



This kind of plant arrangement is more like Wakehurst Place than Kew Gardens, but back to Berlin. I'd visited the Garten & Museum to see how they'd used giant tree trunks to store, move and release hot air to save lots of energy and money in their renovated tropical glasshouse. I still don't fully understand the science of this and will have to do some more homework but basically the giant (concrete) trunks are full of something that allows storage of heat (energy) for around 24 hours. You can then move it from the top to bottom, and from day to night.



I started this post with a picture from the botanical museum and I'll finish with some more. The museum is nearly 200 years old (established in 1815) as the Royal Herbarium, becoming the Royal Botanical Museum in 1879. Like the herbarium, much of the museum collection was destroyed during World War II but the newly created models, signs and dioramas do the job nicely. For my antipodean friends, the display on the floras of the Australian region features the revolutionary Flora of Australia. Some of the books are older though, and my first illustration here is Carl Linnaeus' Flora of Lapland from 1732, where he describes his favourite plant (modelled beside it), later named Linnaea after him.





And a botanical museum includes plants, fungi and algae. This lovely model of a blue-green alga (Cyanobacterium) is of a species I've worked on (with my colleague Steve Skinner) back in Sydney. It's Stigonema hormoides. Ah, memories!


Postscript: Phil Gates from Durham has reminded me of a fantastic collection of glass models of flowers, on display at Harvard University. I haven't seen them in 'the flesh' yet but take a look at this video for some background on the models and the Blaschka family who created them. 

2 comments:

Phil said...

Hello Tim,

Have you ever seen the Blaschka glass flowers at Harvard? Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHOx5H5vNx4

(also includes glass invertebrates). They are astonishing.

Tim Entwisle said...

Fantastic! Thanks for drawing these to my attention. I do recall someone mentioned these wonderful glass models some time ago but I'd forgotten. There's a trip I now have to organise...
Tim