Plant science in...

Plant science in Movember

[TW: suicide]

Every November, men around the world leave their upper-lip untamed and grow fabulous moustaches to raise awareness for mens health. Movember is a charity that shines a spotlight on three health issues faced by men: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and poor mental health and suicide. So far, Movember has funded over 1250 men’s health projects.

As someone who has lost a friend to suicide, but who is unable to grow a moustache, I wanted to raise awareness in my own way. This week, I’m dedicating Plant Science Sunday to three botanists who made incredible contributions to science and had excellent moustaches. If you’d like to make a donation to Movember, I’ll leave a link here:

John Gerard

Born in Nantwich, Cheshire, in 1545, John Gerard started his career as a barber surgeon’s apprentice. Barber surgeons were common medical practitioners during the Middle Ages and were charged with perhaps the most extreme range of tasks: cutting hair to blood letting to amputating whole limbs. This was due to the fact that they possessed a large collection of razors and had unparalleled coordination.

As a ship’s surgeon, Gerard travelled the world, learning about plants as he went. He would go on to to publish a catalogue of plants in the garden he developed in Holborn, London. The catalogue was so popular, he received gifts of plants from all around the world and was invited to become a curator of the physic garden at the College of Physicians in 1586.

Gerard went on to publish two botanical catalogues. In 1596, he published Catalogue of Plants which was a list of 1039 rare plants that he had cultivated in his Holborn garden and in 1597, he published the slightly more imaginatively named The Great Herball. In publishing The Great Herball, Gerard became the first person to catalogue the potato (Solanum tuberosum), the plant you can see him holding in his portrait.

John Gerard paved the way for recording garden plants from around the world and we fill our gardens with those same plants. To this day, his work means we can track when those garden plants arrived in the UK and where they came from. Not bad for a guy born in Nantwich in the Middle Ages.

Hu Xiansu

Hu Xiansu (胡先驌) was born Nanchang, China, in 1894. Following the Chinese Revolution in 1911, during which the last imperial dynasty was overthrown, Xiansu moved to America. Here, he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and later went on to graduate with a doctorate from Harvard University.

Following the death of his wife in Nanking, China, in 1926, he returned to China to become a research fellow at the China Science Centre in the Institute of Biology. During his time at the institute, Xiansu played a pivotal role in founding the Botanical Society of China and went on to establish the first botanical research plantation, which was a large-scale survey of Chinese plants.

Xiansu dedicated his life to botany and taxonomy, and described and named many plant species during his career. His author abbreviation is Hu, which you can see beside the botanical of any species he named. The Torricelliaceae (Torr-ee-selly-ay-sea) family was created by Xiansu in 1934, as a tribute to Evangelista Torricelli, Italian physicist and mathematician, and inventor of the barometer.

Many of the plants we grow as ornamental flowers, shrubs and trees in our garden were described and named by Xiansu. Hu Xiansu was an incredibly talented botanist and revolutionised modern botanical research. An influential scholar, he founded plant taxonomy in China and worked tirelessly to save native Chinese flora.

Gifford Pinchot

Born in Simsbury, Connecticut, in 1865, Gifford Pinchot had an illustrious career as a forester, politician and activist. Pinchot was born into a wealthy family. His mother and father were both well-connected Republican Party leaders. He graduated from Yale University in 1889 before travelling to Europe to study at the French National School of Forestry in Nancy, France.

In 1898, Pinchot was appointed the Head of Division of Forestry at the United States Department of Agriculture. During his time, he reformed the management of forests across America, and advocated for the conservation of American forests, through planned use and renewal, coining the term “conservation ethic”. Pinchot grew the Division of Forestry from 60 to 500 employees over 7 years, who worked on and managed the forests.

In 1901, his friend Theodore Roosevelt became president. Pinchot and Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, an agency to oversee the country’s forests. Pinchot was the first Head of the Forest Service. In 1907, Congress passed an act to prevent Roosevelt from creating more forest reserves. In retaliation, Roosevelt and Pinchot created 16 million acres of National Forests just minutes before Roosevelt lost legal power.

Pinchot married suffragette Cornelia Bryce and together they had one child, who went on to help found the Natural Resources Defence Council, an environmental advocacy group. Pinchot’s legacy is still evident to this day. The Pinchot Institute for Conservation, named after Pinchot, works to continue his work and ensure a sustainable environment through conservation, policy and action.

Thank you for reading this post! If you enjoyed it and if you want to support Movember, I’ll leave another link below. Reach out to your friends, brothers, fathers and men in your life this month. Lockdown has been tough so reach out and check in on them, even if they’re putting on a brave face.


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