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Success Story 2013

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British Society for Plant Pathology Outreach Leafy Murder Mystery Day

British Society for Plant Pathology Outreach Leafy Murder Mystery! Clue no. 1

British Society for Plant Pathology Outreach Leafy Murder Mystery! Clue no. 2

British Society for Plant Pathology Outreach Leafy Murder Mystery! Clue no. 3


The Fascination of Plants Day in the UK

  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • one of the fascinating plants in the Botany Garden at Aberystwyth University
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   collecting samples
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   fire lighters
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   trees
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   tree fungi
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   black fungus
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   bleeding canker
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   bleeding canker
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   Bug Hunt
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   Claire Stoker
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   Fungus model
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   leafy murder leaflets
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   making fire
  • Leafy Murder Mystery!   -   Nature is fun
  • Visit to Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park, The Hutts, Grewelthorpe, Ripon - Dragonflies
  • Visit to Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park, The Hutts, Grewelthorpe, Ripon - Leopard

Aberystwyth University Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS),
Aberystwyth Arts Centre and
Aberystwyth University Botany Garden
Interactive Events at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and
Aberystwyth University Botany Garden Open Day

On 18th May the Aberystwyth University Botany Garden welcomed a steady trickle of visitors throughout the day. It provided the perfect environment for IBERS research and teaching staff to inform and entertain people with their knowledge of plants. There are about 250,000 species of flowering plants on earth including some that are truly weird and wonderful. Visitors saw a gigantic lily that gave off a scent like rotting flesh, attracting flies to act as pollinators. There were many different kinds of carnivorous plants that feed on insects; plants that mimic freshly laid butterfly eggs; sensitive mimosa that recoils when touched; not to mention some of our favourite plants - cocoa and coffee.

Visitors to the Arts Centre Theatre Foyer got stuck into making their own pigments from fruit and vegetables and observed how the colours could be altered by addition of weak acid (vinegar) or base (bicarbonate of soda). Superb tuition from artist Becky Knight helped children and adults to produce an incredible series of paintings.

More than 80 pieces of plastic were made on the Products from Plants display – plastic-making kept children captivated, while parents discussed the pros and cons of biofuels. There was a fascinating display about cereals, their weeds and food; and to round things off visitors were encouraged to extract DNA from spring onions, learning that genes encoded by DNA are selected in plant breeding.


British Society for Plant Pathology Leafy Murder Mystery!

The Leafy Murder Mystery event took place on the 17th and 18th May in Stoke Park Woods, Bristol for the Fascination of Plants Day. The aim of this event was to celebrate the importance of plants, introduce plant pathogens and insects, and their damage to woodland plants. It was also a great opportunity for us to test out our new resources so that BSPP members can make use of them soon!

The run up
To promote the event we used Facebook and Twitter (#LeafyMurder) and put posters up in local schools, libraries, youth clubs, action groups and allotments. To give our event a special twist we also filmed some promo YouTube videos: BSPP Outreach videos!  These videos star Steve England a local naturalist and introduce plant murder clues from the Leafy Murder Mystery trail we’ve developed. Steve and Katie (BSPP Outreach Officer) were also interviewed on Bristol Community Radio and featured in the Bristol Evening Post newspaper.

Day 1: Friday 17th May School’s day
The day kicked off with an introductory talk, asking: 'why do you think plants are important?' and, 'do you think plants get sick?' The children were excited about becoming 'plant detectives', as we told them they’d be spotting signs of plant attackers (pathogens and insects).

Leafy Murder Mystery Trail
Steve England and Dr Andy Bailey (University of Bristol) led the children on the trail, making plant pathology fun by presenting plant murder clues in an entertaining way. One great clue was a huge Horse Chestnut Tree suffering from Bleeding Canker. Steve explained 'this tree has caught a cold! What happens when you have a cold?' The response: 'SNOT!' Steve replied that’s similar to what this tree has. The children then got to see how much damage plant pathogens can do by squeezing juices out of wet saw dust, from what was once a large strong tree but is now a plant murder victim! Along the trail the children collected more plant murder clues to look at under microscopes in the afternoon. 
'Steve told us how trees have snot. Then he told us how a fungus kills trees and how it lights fire.' – Primary School Student.

Bug Hunt
The Bug Hunt was led by Pete Dawson who explained how important insects are and also how they spread plant diseases. Pete was very dynamic and excellent with the children, who were transfixed by his knowledge! The children used nets and pouters to collect their own bugs. They were a little shy at first but it wasn’t long before one of them managed to suck up a slug into a pouter!
'The favourite thing I learnt was that a green fly has a needle in its mouth.'  – Primary School Student.
After lunch the children got a chance to try out our new activities:

Reporter Zone
Here the children became reporters, writing newspaper articles on what plant attacks they’d seen in the woods. We set up video interviews and had a tree where the children wrote what nature means to them. Here’s a report from one of the school students!

Making Zone
The children were then introduced to what plant viruses and fungi are and what damage they do. They made models of Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) and Bean Rust fungus based on the new Plant Pathogen Fact Files we’ve developed. Their models were very creative and showed spores and hyphae, capsid proteins and RNA. Here's a great example.

Plant Doctor Zone
Children matched up photos of human and plant diseases and wrote down/drew symptoms of plants suffering from TMV and Bean Rust. We guided the children through the stages of these diseases. The most amazing thing about this zone was the example of cabbage club root Andy had brought from his lab - it was huge!

Micro Zone
The children looked at their clues from the morning under microscopes and drew their findings. Leaf miner moths were a big hit! We explained how wasps parasitize miner moths and the children were fascinated. Steve had even brought in examples of fungus he had preciously collected, including a huge bracket fungus that was very heavy!
At the end of the day prizes were awarded for the best pathogen model and each child received plant detective certificate.
'It was a really fun trip and learnt a lot'  – Primary School Student.
'They really had a fantastic day and learnt loads - very well organised and varied activities kept them engaged the whole way through.'   – Teacher.

Day 2 – Saturday 18th May (Public day)
The second day was open to the public and our promotion really paid off. We had over 50 people turn up. We repeated all the above activities with two Leafy Murder Mystery walks and one Bug Hunt. Thankfully we had lots of extra expertise from Dr Andy Bailey (University of Bristol) and Dr Peter Spencer-Philips (University West of England). Andy and Peter were brilliant at adding in fascinating science for older children and adults. People really enjoyed it and asked some very intelligent questions showing the science was not too difficult for them.
'Great day in Stoke Park today for the leafy murder mystery, thank you to Katie Tomlinson and Steve England and co for organising.' – Visitor.
'It was a great couple of days, I really enjoyed it and I hope you are delighted by how it went - you should be.' – Dr Andy Bailey.
'Lots of enthusiasm, expertise and friendly team. School kids got very animated!' – Volunteer.
The resources we've developed worked really well! University of Bristol volunteers even took our Tobacco Mosaic Virus and Bean Rust infected plants and information sheets for another event at Bristol Botanical Garden, attended by around 120 people. Plants were shown under an infrared camera and the pathogens in the leaves could be well visualised, as the leaves that were fully Bean Rust infected appeared cooler. This was great recycling of our resources!

So far we’ve received fantastic feedback! Here’s a review from the Bristol Nature History Consortium: 'Steve England and Katie Tomlinson prove anyone can be a successful plant detective!'
The feedback on Twitter and Facebook really blew us away! Read our Storify of the event here! And check out Flikr photos from the day here! 
We think the event went really well and that BSPP members will be interested in being involved in similar events and using the resources we’ve developed! We will be writing a full evaluation report, which will be online towards the end of summer.


Society of Biology Yorkshire Branch

Visit to Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park, The Hutts, Grewelthorpe, Ripon
18 May 2013

The 2 month long drought in Yorkshire had ended a little earlier in the week, so 21 intrepid members and guests crashed through some deep floods and heavy rain to reach the Himalayan garden, located at an altitude of 850ft. at the “Head of the Valley”.

Following a welcome refreshment break, Hannah briefly introduced the park. When the new owner decided to build a garden, there was a period of intense removal of “Super ponticum” (the native invasive rhododendron) and Japanese knotweed. Although planting only began in 1998, because of high rainfall and acid soils (between pH 4 and 6), establishment of the Rhododendron, Cornus, Azalea, Camellia, Pieris and others was rapid. There are now over 1000 varieties of species and Hybrid Rhododendron, with many plants being grown from seed collected on recent plant hunting trips to the Himalayas, China and Korea.

Fortunately, following a while admiring flowering plants in the nursery area, with some plants being purchased, the storm passed and the magnificence of this north facing garden could be explored at will. The late spring meant that many Narcissi were still in abundance but, unfortunately, many of the larger plants had only flower buds. Unexpected to many of us, was the excellence of the 54 sculptures, all beautifully displayed, some in the open others partially hidden by the planting. Almost all were influenced by biological forms, from naturalistic prowling leopard, guinea fowl and roebuck to stylised steel mushrooms, magnolia and stork. Very striking were a mosaic sycamore wing and a huge swift.

With the weather clearing there was more than enough for all of us to agree that this was a wonderful way to celebrate the “Fascination of Plants Day”. The garden is only open for a few weeks in May and June, but we would recommend a visit to this magical landscape next year. Thanks to Chris Collins on the committee for the excellent arrangements.

Paul Bartlett MSB


University of Oxford Harcourt Arboretum
Time Travel with Trees @ Harcourt Arboretum

Blogger, ‘Lady Microbe’ tells us about her visit to the Harcourt Arboretum on 18th May

Here’s what some of our other visitors said about the day:
“Excellent tour - Guy was really entertaining and also full of interesting information. The barn looks great and we will come back to see it when it is up. We have just joined the Friends on the strength of our visit today (first time we’ve been here). Thanks.”
“Fantastic guided walk and talk about managing the woodland. Will certainly love to come back for more of the same in future.”
“We've been here 4.5 hours and love every minute of it. Again next year please. Thank you.”
“I think the day at the Arboretum lived up to its title....and I though your walk around the Medicinal plants was fascinating too.”
“Many thanks to all of you for such a really interesting display of so many different aspects of plant life.”
“Excellent - thank you!”
“The indoor science (chemistry) was really good. The people were really nice people.”
“I liked chemistry.”
“Really good day - please do this again. Thank you.”


Fascination of Plants Day 2013 celebrated at the John Innes Centre with interactive schools events

For the second consecutive year, the John Innes Centre celebrated Fascination of Plants Day 2013, with events on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th May.

350 children from 13 Norfolk schools attended over the two days, taking part in the worldwide celebration of plant science and agriculture, with hands on activities and presentations.

Visiting school children were able to hear the insides of trees, explore the world of carnivorous plant life, learn about genetic modification, discover plant textures and adaptability, and much more.

For the second year running, Blue Peter gardener and plant fanatic Chris Collins shared his own enthusiasm for plants at the event, using tales from his recent trip to the tropical rainforest of Cameroon to demonstrate the versatility of plants and their importance to our environment.

“We really need gardeners and botanists for the future” said Chris, “It is a really, really important subject. Days like Fascination of Plants, here at the John Innes Centre, are vital for that.”

We had a fantastic time showing the children how cool (but scary!) carnivorous plants can be. Thank you very much to Tim Bailey of the Carnivorous Plant Society who donated many beautiful plants to us. Plants from Triffid Nurseries, Fly-Trap Nurseries and Hampshire Carnivorous Plants were also on display. You can find out about our research here:


Public treated to a Bee's eye view of plants at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden

The University of Bristol Botanic Garden was one of many organisations including research labs, schools, museums and farmers to open our doors with interactive displays for the public.

Throughout the day visitors were able to view and read about some of the most important and fascinating plants on the planet from primitive plants to plants that have evolved to grow in very particular environments, to plants that are useful to humans (such as sugar, chocolate, tea and coffee). Scientists from the School of Biological Sciences were on hand to help reveal another world of microscopic plant and animal interactions taking place all around us and a range of flowers were on display to demonstrate how UV light reflection produces various patterns that attract pollinating insects. Ecology PhD student Naomi Dalton said "It's great fun sharing with visitors the exciting world of plants and introducing them to the hidden natural diversity within gardens" and with over 100 people touring the garden with the undergraduates and post graduates it proved to be a successful day.

Fascination of Plants Day has proved a popular addition to the calendar of plant based industry as a means to inspire and educate people to the importance and incredible diversity of plants on the planet.


Fascination of Plants at Cambridge University Botanic Garden

TS Eliot dubbed April 'the cruellest month, bringing lilacs out of the dead land'.

More cruel yet this year. In mid May, the lilacs only just hit their stride. Everything - bulbs, herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees, had been delayed by a prolonged winter and a chilly spring.

So much the better for this year's Festival of Plants at Cambridge University Botanic Garden (CUBG). Late narcissi and tulips were still flowering, with early alliums hot on their heels. The peonies were at their best. In the northern half of the garden, the grass remained uncut, with a froth of cow parsley topping a heady brew of bluebells, cranesbills and other native wild flowers. The scent was overpowering.

The garden looked magnificent, and the staff had laid on a series of tours, events and experts to tell visitors more about all aspects of plant life, from the chemistry of herbs to the strategy of pollination. And specialist plant nurseries offered seductive species that garden centres might not stock.

I'm declaring an interest here. I've haunted the garden since 1980, and have seen huge changes in the way plants are presented and interpreted to the non-expert. I acquired a key to the gates (in limited supply to non members of the University) from Norman Villis, then Superintendent. He'd just laid out the Winter Garden, which preceded the Winter Walk at Anglesey Abbey, though smaller in scale. I'd let myself in on most Sundays, and got to know a range of plants, their labels hand-written by a calligrapher, that I'd never met before. I'd tour the glasshouses, home not only to formal plant collections, but to a winter wonderland of conservatory plants. So, I've got to know the garden, over 30 years. When I arrived for the Festival, I was invited to record my memories of visiting the CUBG by Hamida Farooq-Haynes. It was fun to review the changes I'd seen, for a CUBG archive. Times have changed, and with them, the philosophy of a botanic garden; that it shouldn't serve only the botany students (a rapidly diminishing breed), but all of us. Visit any day, and you'll find a wealth of information. There are beds with bee-friendly species, with information explaining how flowers attract and sustain pollinators. There's a trail for plants that provide us with valuable chemicals - witness the prickly pear cactus Opuntia sp, shivering outside the glasshouses; a source of quercetin. There's 'Herbie Man', planted top to toe with 'virtuous' species.

The glasshouses now focus on collections of plants that belong together. One reflects the relationship between plant species at the tip of southern Africa with those in western Australia, which were once attached to one another. Your proteas and your banksias. Another houses plants from the Canary islands - giant Geranium spp, and other plants whose ancestors drifted in, established themselves and evolved to form new species. The Festival of Plants Day offered tours that included the Systematic Beds, and the CUBG Trees, among others. I joined the Systematic Beds tour, led by Ron Mulvey and Gail Fenner. If you thought there was 'something rotten in the state of Denmark', try to get to grips with such mega-families like Liliaceae. De Candolle counted flower parts, and clumped a vast range of plants into a single family. Molecular biology and biochemistry have allowed botanists to tease these out into smaller families.

Volunteers Rod Mulvey and Gail Jenner led us round the beds, laid out according to La Candolle's groupings, and explained how biochemistry and DNA analysis mean that former classification is now superseded by far more precise evaluation.

The last time I thought about Liliaceae, it was a mega family, totally unwieldy. It's now sensibly split into several new ones. Alliaceae is the most obvious spin off. We know alliaceous members when we weep over them in the kitchen. Turns out they contain saponins (onion soap, anybody?).

Rod Mulvey also showed us the beds occupied by Fallopia spp - Japanese knotweed. It made me realise the 'botanical' necessity of preserving the most invasive species. Preventing the spread of F. japonica, and its even more vigorous relative, F. kamchatskensis, from its assigned bed, involves chopping down the plants and having a bonfire over the remains. Not entirely successful, alas.

Rod's tour took in the whole range of the Systematic Beds. He commented that the hawthorn hedging that separates different plant genealogical groups may need to be dug up and re- arranged in future, once current techniques have sorted out truer relationships than those evaluated by 250 years ago.

Dr Tim Upson led groups through the CUBG trees. One of his most powerful messages was that our native trees, like the beech, may find it difficult to survive in the south of England in the next 50 years. We may need to shift plantations of timber trees, like beech, further north, or find substitutes. The tour ended at Cladastris kentuckea - a street tree in southern France. Might this be the future for our avenues?

CUBG continues to evolve. The latest project is a Schools' Garden, with input from a local school and volunteers. Its aim is for children to know more about the environment; growing crops and understanding how we rely on horticulture for our future.

Most of the exhibits and explanation boards will remain in place. I'd recommend that anyone who chooses to visit Cambridge, spend a couple of hours or more at CUBG.

For more info visit:


The College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee and the University of Dundee Botanic Garden

On Saturday, 18th May 2013, the Botanic Garden hosted a day of fun- and plant-filled activities including the hugely popular Botanic Garden Trail, seed sowing to help plant the new Genetics Garden, the famous Raspberry DNA Roadshow, Thermal Imaging and Plant Hammering!  In true Scottish form, we all had a great time despite it being the rainiest of the year.

We also had a group of local schoolchildren on a special visit the day before, to start sowing the first seed for the Cereal Diversity Plot in the Genetics Garden. On 17th May, 2014 we held the Fascination of Plants Day at the Botantic Gardens  with activities including lumberjacking, badge making, percussive plant printing and traditional woodworking.