The Botany spirit collection

Figure 1: This potato was one of the specimens given the once over.

Yesterday, Lindsey Loughtman (Assistant curator- Botany) and I carried out an inspection of one of the shelves of the botany spirit collection.  The botancial spirit collection can be found with other natural sciences spirit collections (including a spooky severed hand!) in the basement of the museum.

Figure 2: Weird and wonderful specimens housed in spirit!

The process involved removing items from the shelf; giving them a good clean; assessing their condition; and then taking a photo which could be added to their record on KE-EMu.  The specimens were ranked on a scale.  Good meant no action was needed (only two of these I’m afraid; one of which wasn’t even a plant (see below!).  Good to fair meant that a slight top-up (of spirit) was needed.  Fair meant that a top-up is definitely needed.  Fair to poor meant that the specimen may need rehydration but is salvageable.  And finally poor meant that the specimen is not salvageable and ought to be disposed of.  The specimens investigated were in all kinds of states; some examples of which can be seen below.

Figure 3: Despite a lack of spirit, this mistletoe looks to be in a fair condition (is definitely salvageable).

Figure 4: These small jars, two without a lid (and one with a moth trapped inside) are definitely in poor condition and may need to be disposed of.

The work is usually carried out by Gina Allnat, last year’s biology trainee, Lindsey and Veronica (a volunteer).  It is useful to keep botanical specimens in spirit to provide a ‘3-D’ structure to complement the pressed specimens.  In association with botanical illustrations (see Leo Grindon collection), they can also provide more colour than the pressed sheets (if they have been looked after).

Figure 5: The specimen’s containers needed to be cleaned before being returned to the shelf.

Though undoubtedly a valid activity, time spent in the spirit store needs to be limited due to the inhalation of alcohol.  This is why you should only really spend an hour in the spirit store before getting some fresh air!  I look forward to working more with the spirit collection in every department I gain experience in (botany, entomology, zoology); and have already begun helping Kate with the topping up of some of the zoological specimens.

Figure 6: Surely this tapeworm belongs with the zoological collection? It has been classified as a botancial specimen and labelled as Enteromorpha intestinalis which despite sounding correct, is in fact a type of green algae!  However, we still decided to give it a rating. Ironically, this was one of two ‘good’ specimens that we recorded; not bad for a worm!


About Trainee Curator

I will be writing a blog about the next twelve months spent as a trainee biological curator based at Manchester Museum.
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5 Responses to The Botany spirit collection

  1. Pingback: Pickled plants « Herbology Manchester

  2. I really want to know the story behind that hand.

  3. So do I! Apparently it’s the hand off a mummy!

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