Museum of the Week #3

The museum of this week is not actually a museum, at least not in the traditional sense. But I would argue that Kew Gardens is a museum of sorts, because it is a repository of the world’s botanical history. Again I must confess I haven’t been to Kew this week, but back during the summer. With winter finally upon us and things in London looking quite grey and dreary, I felt the need for a reminder that this cacophonous, crowded city can offer little pockets of paradise when the sun shines (please excuse the excess of alliteration in that sentence! I got carried away).

Kew houses some of the oldest and rarest plants in the world, including the critically endangered Australian tree the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis), which until 1994 was only known from fossils (the youngest of which were 2 million years old). Like the coelacanth and takahē, Wollemia is known as a ‘Lazarus taxon‘ – an organism previously thought extinct that has been rediscovered (much like Lazarus returning from the dead). And while the wild population of the Wollemi pine is still only about 100 trees, you can buy one for your garden in the Kew gift shop! They have been quite successfully cultivated, and are now much more numerous in gardens than they are in Australian forests.

The Wollemi pine is so rare that it is kept behind bars to deter tree thieves

Kew is impressively large, and there are many things to explore, including some enormous greenhouses, an exhibit on the evolution of the planet and its plants, an aquarium (housing mostly aquatic plant species), a worryingly high (and wobbly!) tree-top walkway, and of course the historic royal palace (which I didn’t have time to visit). There’s far more to see than can be seen in a day, and I missed huge areas of the gardens. I’m planning to go back sometime in spring to try and see the rest because I had such a lovely day there.

It’s much more interesting to look at pretty plants than it is to read my witterings, so here’s a small gallery of pictures I took around the gardens:

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