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Glass Flowers


I'm on a short project at Harvard University, and I took a long lunch the
other day and went over to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, with two
targets in mind: the special exhibit of photographs by Bradford Washburn
(mountaineer and photographer, I guess he would be considered a contemporary
of Ansel Adams but in the mountains,  pictures in the exhibition from
1929-1978), and the glass flower collection.  The photographs were stunning.
I didn't know anything about the glass flower collection until I happened to
follow a website link to it, but it is incredible.

The flowers were commissioned in 1886 by a professor who wanted to have
life-like models from which to teach botany all year round.  They were made
from 1887 through 1936 by a father and son team of glassmakers near Dresden,
Germany.  Not quite all of the models are on display, but I understand there
are over 4000 models of about 850 species, including plant specimen models
and then various enlarged flower and plant parts for study as well.  It's
amazing.  I cannot imagine the skill and patience required to accomplish
this - picture a 3 foot section of goldenrod, with all its tiny flowers,
including multiple flower-heads, stem, leaves.  Some of the models are
complete with root systems - basically look just like you pulled the plant
up with most of the roots.  Kitty, I thought of you when I was trying to
remember some of the specific different plants represented there, since the
labels had the botanical name (but I'm not sure as of when!) and then 1 to 3
common names for each model.  I'm afraid I tried to remember too many,
because now I can't, with any confidence in correctness, remember any.  Oh
well.

Everything from 7 species of salix to clematis to chickory to venus flytrap
to a couple small cactus in flower - picture one of those, a 6" high section
with hundreds of spines and multiple flowers - must have taken weeks to do
just that one! There were 2 models of foot long maple twigs, showing summer
and autumn color, probably a dozen leaves on each twig.  All glass.  And
they look so real - I kept reminding myself I wasn't just looking at a bunch
of cuttings.  I found the dahlia interesting because the flower was not the
complex and impressive bloom available today, it was a single flower with a
small number of wide petals.  I am not familiar with all the history behind
the cultivation of the dahlia, but I believe some of the fancier varieties
might well have been developed in the last hundred-plus years, so that
particular one, and also the clematis, which was very plain, seemed more a
model from a historical point in time - the rest of the plants and flowers
known to me appeared to look just like they do today.  They were amazing.

I wished some of you could have been there to share it with!

Libby
Maryland zone 6

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