Seeds planted for Botanic Garden’s 400th birthday celebrations

18 November 2013

The countdown has begun to the 400th birthday of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and the University Herbaria.

Over the next 400 weeks, a special new project will be highlighting 400 different plants of cultural and scientific importance from the University’s collections.

One plant will be profiled each week, starting this Sunday, 24 November, enabling people to see images of the specimen in the University’s living and preserved collections.

The countdown will lead up to the anniversary celebrations on 25 July 2021, which will mark 400 years of botanical teaching and research at the University of Oxford.

The first plant to be showcased is the Garden’s oldest specimen – an English yew tree (Taxus baccata) that was planted in 1645 by the first curator, Jacob Bobart. It is commonly seen in churchyards and has important medicinal properties.

The project can be followed on Twitter @Plants400 and on the specially created website at  http://herbaria.plants.ox.ac.uk/bol/plants400 . This web portal will act as a database to enable people to find out more about each featured plant and to see images of it growing in the Botanic Garden or Harcourt Arboretum, or preserved as a valuable specimen in one of the University Herbaria.

Dr Alison Foster, senior curator at the Botanic Garden, said: ‘We really want people to get inspired by plants and we want to share our enthusiasm for plants.

‘We would love to help more people realise how important plants are in their daily lives, as well as how intricate, fascinating, clever and beautiful they are.’

The project is being run jointly by the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, the University Herbaria, and the Department of Plant Sciences. Plant profiles will be written by the core project team and other members of staff from the organisations involved.

Dr Stephen Harris, Druce Curator of the University Herbaria, said: ‘Plants are fundamental to people’s lives, and through this project we are aiming to demonstrate their importance, as well as showing that the science around plants is exciting and innovative.

The next 400 weeks are an excellent opportunity for people to get an insight into the treasures contained within the University’s living and preserved plant collections. ‘But we’re also looking to the future and would like to use the next 400 weeks to showcase plants in innovative fashions, present new research and build on the foundations created by the collections over the past 400 years.’

Dr Foster added: ‘Over the eight-year period of the 400-week countdown, the database will form a growing resource of information about these key plants.

‘We hope the project will be of interest to adults and children alike, and we are planning other events around the countdown such as specially commissioned works of art and plant profiles written by eminent botanists.’

For more information, images, or to arrange an interview with Dr Alison Foster or Dr Stephen Harris, contact press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk or 01865 280528.

Notes for Editors:

  • The Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum together make up a department of the University of Oxford. The Botanic Garden is one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. It was founded in 1621 as a physic garden growing plants for medicinal research. Today it contains almost 5,000 different plant species on 1.8 hectares. It is one of the most diverse yet compact collections of plants in the world.
  • The Harcourt Arboretum became part of the Botanic Garden in 1963. It covers 130 acres of land and is situated just outside the village of Nuneham Courtenay, six miles south-east of Oxford.
  • Established in 1621, the Oxford University Herbaria include the oldest herbarium in the United Kingdom – the fourth oldest in the world. Collectively, the Herbaria hold approximately one million botanical specimens (including at least 35,000 types) from across all taxonomic groups and geographic regions.