New exhibition celebrates four centuries of Oxford botany

Roots to Seeds until 24th October 2021 is a new exhibition at the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, UK that reveals the highs and lows of botany at the University of Oxford, and highlights the continued relevance of this study the modern world, as Oxford Botanic Garden celebrates its 400th anniversary.

The first major exhibition to trace the history of plant sciences in Oxford, Roots to Seeds will highlight the evolution of its study from the early 17th century, through the growth of collecting across the world during the Age of Exploration, to the revolution of botany as an intellectually respectable subject in the 17th century, concluding with the positive impact botanical research on the world today. The exhibition creates a dialogue between rare books, manuscripts and specimens to show our changing knowledge about plants and how we have used them for our own purposes.

Visitors can trace the development of this study through a range of items on display: from a stunning 12th-century illustration of the Mandrake plant, to the ‘Bobart the Elder Herbarium’, the first catalogue of plants in Oxford Botanic Garden, and the foundation of the university’s botanical collections. Preserved specimens of diverse plants and flowers from across four centuries will be shown alongside beautiful and illuminating sketches and drawings of plants, including a night flowering cactus by Robert Thornton.

Roots to Seedswill tell fascinating stories of nature and of human achievement, while celebrating the beauty of plants. Together with seventeenth-century herbals, elegant garden plans, and plant models, items from the archives will help to tell the story of botanical science in Oxford and the intrepid botanists who devoted themselves to the essential study of plants. The exhibition also looks forward to the future of plant science, including contributions from the University’s current students and researchers who are focusing on the key areas where plant science will make a significant contribution to global security, from food production to medicine.

Exhibition Curator and Druce Curator of Oxford University Herbaria, Prof. Stephen A. Harris said:

“Plants are essential to all aspects of our lives – from the air that we breathe through our food and medicine to how we choose to live our lives. Starting with the origin of Oxford’s Physic Garden in 1621, Roots to Seeds focuses on four centuries of contributions made by researchers and teachers in the University to the global, scientific story of plant biology. Moreover, this episodic story challenges assumptions about plants and how we have acquired our knowledge of them.

Over 300 rare books and specimens have been drawn from the collections of the Sherardian Library and Oxford University Herbaria, the oldest scientific collection of plant specimens in the United Kingdom. Books, manuscripts, botanical illustrations, dried specimens and scientific models, many of which have never been on public display before, are featured in the exhibition.”

Richard Ovenden OBE, Bodley’s Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries, said:

Roots to Seeds is a bold and ambitious exhibition that reflects on our history in this field and looks to our future. This exhibition weaves together compelling stories, objects and images over 400 years. We want people to see beyond the usual when it comes to plants and get a better understanding of the plants that surround them and why they are so vital to all life on Earth.”


One comment

  1. Lovely article. I wish I could go see the exhibit. I have been to the Kew Herbarium and got lost in the sands of time there……


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