Monday, 31 March 2014

Pressing matters

If you've ever been tempted to press one of your favourite orchids, you might be aiding science research in the future. 

Orchid blooms collected up to 150 years ago in Victorian England show that old collections of pressed plants around the world can help the study of climate change, scientists have agreed.

Ecologists compared samples of early spider orchids, held in collections with labels recording the exact day in spring when they were picked in southern England from 1848-1958, and dates when the same flower blossomed in the wild from 1975-2006.

They noticed that warmer years were linked with earlier flowering. In both cases flowering was advanced by about six days per 1 degree Celsius rise in average spring temperature, according to the Journal of Ecology.

The match between higher temperatures and quicker flowering for both old and modern orchids showed for the first time that botanical collections could be a reliable source to study climate, even if temperature records were lacking, they said.

Vast numbers of specimens of plants and animals are in collections around the world, some of them dating back 250 years and long before there were reliable temperature records in many nations.

A UN panel of climate scientists said in 2007 that average world temperatures rose 0.7 degree Celsius (1.3 F) over the 19th century, mainly in recent decades due to a build-up of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

The 77 pressed orchids, picked when in full bloom, had meticulous records of dates and sites. Early spider orchids have greenish petals and a purple-brown part which looks like the back of a spider.

Above: pressed flowers and leaves in contemporary Chinese-style

By Pamela Kelt

READ THE BOOK! The Lost Orchid is a Gothic-inspired tale of intrigue set in 1880s, when orchidelirium was raging ... Out on 4 April from 

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