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Going back to Botanic Roots

The University of Cambridge’s Botanic Garden raises rare and endangered plants as exhibits in the opening Conflicted Seeds + Spirit art exhibition taking place at the University’s new iconic David Attenborough Building.
Conflicted Seeds + Spirit exhibition. Image: Cambridge NewsConflicted Seeds + Spirit exhibition. Image: Cambridge News
The Botanic Garden’s Glasshouse team have been busy preparing rare and endangered plant material for the opening of the Ackroyd and Harvey Conflicted Seeds + Spirit artwork exhibition in the new David Attenborough Building. The building, named in honour of Sir David Attenborough’s contribution to conservation, is based on the University’s New Museums Site. Its doors will open to the public for the first time this March for the Conflicted Seeds + Spirit exhibition as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.

Conflicted Seeds + Spirit acknowledges the history of the New Museums Site as the original home to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden as a physic garden from the 18th century. The exhibition includes artwork of specimens preserved in alcoholic spirit, displayed alongside the tender life-force of global tree saplings undergoing conservation programmes. It is this rare plant material that has been propagated or sourced by the Botanic Garden’s Glasshouse staff.
Sally Petit, Head of Horticulture at the Botanic Garden says: “We are delighted that the Garden is involved in this exciting initiative especially as the building is on the site of the original University’s Botanic Garden.”

The Garden’s involvement in the project began in the summer of 2014 when the Glasshouse team were invited to assist in the sourcing, propagation and cultivation of rare and endangered tree species for the exhibition. Among the species cultivated are native whitebeams, the cork oak of Europe and North Africa, and the Chilean monkey puzzle.
Sally continues: “It’s been both a joy and challenge for us to grow or source these challenging specimens. We have been delighted to have had success in the propagation and cultivation of them and to have gained valuable information about their requirements during this process. The project has also enabled us to further develop links with partner organisations such as the Global Trees Campaign, the Conifer Conservation Project and the Millennium Seed Bank in the sourcing of these threatened species.”

At the end of the exhibition the plants will be retained by the Botanic Garden for inclusion in the Garden’s collections, both in the open garden and also in the Glasshouse Range. The Garden will use them to raise awareness of the global threats to plants and the value of conserving plants and habitats.
The exhibition aims to highlight the current planetary crisis and the connectivity of conservation, as well as celebrate the pioneering partnership between the University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. The David Attenborough Building will foster this collaboration, which aims to transform our understanding and conservation of biodiversity through research and practice.


The Cambridge Conservation Initiative(CCI)combines a number of partners, many conservation NGOs, and the University. The Botanic Garden, as part of the University is automatically a partner of the CCI. The Garden’s Director Professor Beverley Glover and members of the CCI also work together on a number of collaborations and committees.

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Publication Date
09/03/2016