As Curator of the Garden, I have responsibility for managing the collections. These include the living collections, which comprise over 8000 species, and the Cory Library, which is home to our printed collections, including fine antiquarian volumes and early manuscripts. My key areas of responsibility include planning the future direction of the collections, overseeing the sourcing and documentation of new and diverse species, and promoting the use of the collections for research and teaching.
The curation team comprises Jenny Sargent, the Cory manager, Pete Atkinson, the Plant Records Officer and Mar Milan, the Plant Records Assistant. Pete and Mar are responsible for arguably our most valuable and central asset, the plant database, which stores all the data on our living collections – essentially our institutional memory going back to the first plantings in 1846. It is these careful records above all else that define our identity as a Botanic Garden. As important as the plants themselves are the labels, the link between plants and their information records, in which the labels provide a fundamental and visible interpretation of the plant collection.
As a dual appointment between the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and the Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge, I have both research and teaching opportunities within the University
I maintain an active research group interested in the evolution and diversity of land plants. In particular we are focused on the flowering plant order Caryophyllales, a group of organisms that are well recognized for a remarkable range of physiological and morphological adaptations. Here we are particularly interested in the relationship between gene diversity and extreme adaptation. The second strand of my research tackles the evolution of the cuticle, a thin waxy layer that covers the epidermal surface of all land plants, and an essential innovation that allowed the green algae to colonise the land as land plants.
I teach on the Garden’s education programme, including the Cambridge Certificate in Practical Horticulture and Plantsmanship, and the week-long Flowering Plant Families course. Within the University I also lecture and teach practicals, and run the Orielton Field Course as part of the “Evolution and Behaviour” module in Natural Sciences Tripos. I also participate in the third year Plant Science course, “Dynamics, History and Phylogeny of Vegetation”.
I studied Biology with honours in Plant Science at the University of Edinburgh. During this time I attended an influential course in Tropical Botany at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens and the Kampong Tropical Garden in Miami. Shortly afterwards I moved to Florida to do a PhD at the Florida Museum of Natural History. My PhD focused on floral evolution in the South African ‘Living Stone’ family, Aizoaceae, which belong to the flowering plant order Caryophyllales. I returned to the UK in 2009 as a Marie Curie Research Fellow and subsequently a NERC Independent Research Fellow. I was appointed to the curatorship and a lectureship in Plant Sciences in 2014, where I have established the Evolution and Diversity research group.
I currently serve as a member of the NERC Peer Review College, a member of the Botanical Society of America, and European and Pan-American Societies for Evolutionary Developmental Biology, aswell as a Fellow of the Linnean Society.