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Where Did These Plants Come From?


From Europe, we have snowdrops, hyacinths, daffodils and crocuses. From Africa came gladiolas, hibiscus and geraniums. From South America: fuchsia, scarlet sage, petunias and cupflowers.

The origins and history of some of the most popular flowers and plants in our home gardens and the world’s botanic gardens are colorfully documented in an exhibition, “The World in a Garden,” on display in the Lyman Conservatory’s Church Gallery.

“Gardens everywhere can be viewed as microcosms of the world of plants,” states the subtitle of the exhibition, which accompanied the Smith Botanic Garden’s Spring Bulb Show and will continue through the fall.

Through panels on the walls of the gallery, the exhibition outlines the history of botanic gardens from the Lyceum of Greece, overseen by Theophrastus in 323 BCE, to an influential book, De materia medica, by Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides, which describes more than 600 plant species, and Herbarum vivae eicones (Living Portraits of Plants) a book compiled by Otto Brunfels in the 1500s.

It describes the evolution of the science of botany in the 1700s, first by Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus, and with the profusion of greenhouses beginning in the 16th century.

“The World in a Garden” was curated by C. John Burk, E.D. Simonds Professor in Life Sciences, who selected images for the exhibition from the Mortimer Rare Book Room and from the National Geographic Image Collection. The exhibition’s title, Burk explains, is derived from a well-known article, “The World in Your Garden,” written by Wendell H. Camp, a botanist and plant explorer, first printed in National Geographic in July 1947 with accompanying paintings by artist Else Bostelmann. The article was later developed into a book.

"The article apparently formed a part of my botanical subconscious," comments Burk. "I remembered it at once when I saw my first bulb show in the Lyman Plant House in the spring of 1962. Here in a single greenhouse room were crocuses, snowdrops, and fritillarias from Alpine meadows, hyacinths from the shores of the Mediterranean, and tulips from Turkey. The sight of all these plants, originating from different climes and continents, yet assembled and thriving together at winter's end, seemed little short of marvelous then -- as it still does now."

Thanks to centuries of exploration and plant exportation, today’s gardens, as “The World in a Garden” illustrates, are reflections of the millions of species from lands near and far.


3/21/07   By Eric Sean Weld
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