A chilly but inspiring visit to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Some 30 members made their annual pilgrimage to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden on Thursday 10 June, 2010. The weather was discouragingly cool and damp, but the vivid greens of the garden more than compensated. The garden has an illustrious history and played an important role in shaping modern science. But it is also a charming place to stroll on a summer evening, particularly when escorted by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide.

Particular highlights pointed out by the guides included:

  • Several 'living fossil' species (Wollemi pines, ginkgo trees and dawn redwoods)
  • Four types of cedar tree (Atlas, Lebanon, Deodar and Cyprus)
  • A descendant of Isaac Newton’s famous apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, beneath which he claimed to have first grasped the universality of the law of gravity
  • The limestone pavement rockery adjacent to the lake, with a particularly stunning, blue-flowered Moltkia.
  • The extremely rare Cambridge Oak, Quercus warburgii, a semi-evergreen tree of hybrid origin known only in cultivation.

The garden has some exciting new developments. Thanks to a major benefaction from the Gatsby Foundation, a new Plant Science Laboratory was completed in late 2010. The Sainsbury Laboratory houses 100 scientists, supported by more than 30 additional staff,  studying plant development in state-of-the-art laboratory facilities.

The laboratory also houses the University Herbarium, which contains over a million pressed and dried plant specimens from all over the world, including those collected by Charles Darwin on the Beagle voyage. This collection is a key resource in our understanding of plant evolution and biodiversity.

We look forward to returning in summer 2011, when the weather will perhaps be kinder.

John Wilkins, Chairman, Cambridge Regional Group

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