Chemicals from Plants

Plants are nature’s great chemists, producing a bewildering range of chemicals. Mostly these chemicals deter feeding animals, from insects to grazing mammals. They can be found in all parts of a plant,most commonly in the leaves, but also in the roots, as in Daucus carota (wild carrot), and the seeds, for example those of Lupinus mutabilis (lupin).

This trail identifies just a few of the plant species in the Garden’s collections from which chemical compounds have been
extracted for a wide variety of human uses, including for medicines, dyes, flavourings and foodstuffs. Please note that many of the plants included are herbaceous or annuals, so some may not be above ground and visible when you visit.

To access the trail, you can borrow a hard copy summary of the information from the ticket offices and follow the trail about the Garden or download it from the link left. Visitors with QR code readers on their mobile phones can then access the full plant webpage profiles by scanning the QR codes.

Each plant chemical is illustrated with information from the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD) – a database of more than 500,000 compounds that have been studied by X-ray crystallography. Each CSD entry provides detailed chemical information and most importantly the experimentally-determined 3D molecular structure.

Clicking the ‘3D Crystal Structure’ link on the left of each information webpage provides an interactive 3D picture of the molecule via the WebCSD software . Place your cursor within the 3D visualiser window and move it around to rotate the molecule and view it from any direction. Additional chemical and crystallographic information can be accessed under the tabs to the right of the visualiser.
The CSD is compiled by the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre at 12 Union Road, Cambridge. For more information of CCDC follow the link above left.