SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedDescription
01A Rose By Any Other Name20140721 (R4+)
20160222 (R4+)
20160223 (R4+)
Carl Linnaeus and a revolutionary grammar for plants.
The 18th century's age of travel and enlightenment meant that a vast influx of newly discovered plants into Europe was creating a botanical tower of Babel. No common language for plants and a wealth of long and localised names made communication about plant species often impossible. Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus dedicated his life to developing a proper system of naming and placing plants into a new ordered hierarchy.
Professor Kathy Willis launches the series by talking to Jim Endersby, historian at Sussex University, who argues that Linnaeus' system of plant classification established the roots of botany as we now know it and revolutionised the economics and movement of plant species and their riches across the globe, and how they are referred to.
She speaks with Linnaean archivist Gina Douglas and learns how in 1753 his System Naturae placed plants into a hierarchy of relationships based on the number of reproductive organs, in the hope of uncovering the machinery of nature. Whilst much of what Linnaeus developed has now been superseded by a more natural system of classification, his method of naming still dominates today
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is Director of Science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also Professor of Long-term Ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
02Plants To Shape Society20140722 (R4+)
20160223 (R4+)
20160224 (R4+)
How plants proved a new route to political power and the growth of Britain's Empire.
The 18th century botanical impresario Sir Joseph Banks was convinced that Britain's destiny was as the major civilising power in the world, and this could be achieved by harnessing botany and imperial progress to each other's mutual benefit.
Professor Kathy Willis talks to Linnaean Society honorary archivist, Gina Douglas, on how Britain's acquisition of Carl Linnaeus' collection of books and specimens proved the tool to promote, identify, and trade plants across the Empire.
She hears from Richard Barley, Director of Horticulture at Kew and former director of Melbourne's Botanic Gardens, who discusses Banks' influence on the choice of plants taken with the first settlers to Australia.
But how central were plants to Britain's colonial project? Historian Jim Endersby weighs up Joseph Banks' 18th century vision to use Kew as a centre to gather as many plants and plant products as possible, not only to enrich the Royal Garden's collection but for Kew to also function as a botanical exchange house between the colonies.
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is Director of Science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also Professor of Long-term Ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
03Pressed Plants And Possibilities20140723 (R4+)
20160224 (R4+)
20160225 (R4+)
How Kew's pressed plants collection established insights into plant relationships.
The Victorians realised that preserving the structural features of a plant was essential to classifying it, placing it on a plant family tree and building up an overall understanding of the relationships between plants. Central to this was the herbarium - a collection of dried plants documented, pressed and mounted onto identical sheets of paper. Kathy Willis examines the genesis of this process at Kew which plays host today to over 7 million specimens, and is now one of a network of herbaria around the world.
If you want to know what a plant is, the herbarium is where you come. But how was the Kew collection established? Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby on the influence of William Jackson Hooker whose private plant collection forms the basis of the collection.
Historian Anne Secord of Cambridge University examines the delicate relationship between artisan collectors in the field and gentlemen botanists which defied the rigid social divide to enable specimens to be gathered from far afield to advance botanical knowledge.
Kathy Willis learns from Kew botanist, Bill Baker, how patterns now emerge in the herbarium that enable changing patterns of plant behaviour from flowering times to plant distribution to feed into wider questions about the effect of changing climate and land use.
And in an age when the Empire was aiming to show everything to its best advantage researcher Caroline Cornish reveals how plants could be effectively displayed to a curious Victorian public through Britain's first Museum of Economic Botany.
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also professor of long-term ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
04Blight On The Landscape20140724 (R4+)
20160225 (R4+)
20160226 (R4+)
Out of the tragedy of the Irish potato famine in 1845, a new discipline in science emerged
Out of the tragedy of the Irish potato famine was to emerge a major new discipline in science - plant pathology. Infectious micro-organisms would come to be accepted as a cause of disease rather than its result.
Kathy Willis hears from Kew's head of mycology, Brin Dentinger, on the significance of German botanist Antony de Bary's experiments that would lead to a new understanding of the causes of potato blight.
Insights into the life cycle and behaviour of fungal spores required detailed and repetitive observations. Some of the most important insights in the 19th century came from children's story writer and natural history illustrator Beatrix Potter. Historian Jim Endersby explains how her careful observations contributed to the controversial idea that many fungi, far from being destructive, live in symbiosis with a host of plants.
Kew mycologist Martin Bidartondo studies this relationship and we hear how thanks to new technology enabling researchers to identify fungal DNA we're on the brink of elucidating the real importance of fungi in today's ecosystems.
Producer Adrian Washbourne
Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also professor of long-term ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
05Lumping And Splitting20140725 (R4+)
20160226 (R4+)
20160227 (R4+)
How naturalist Joseph Hooker globally acquired species to build up the first maps of flora
By 1850 identifying and classifying plants had become far more important than mere list making. Establishing the global laws of botany - what grew where and why - occupied the well travelled naturalist Joseph Hooker - son of Kew's director William Hooker and close friend of Charles Darwin. Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby on how Hooker was to acquire species from all over the world to build up the first accurate maps of the world's flora.
Mark Nesbitt, curator of Kew's economic botany collection, reveals how gifts to Hooker in the collection reveal the relationship between the amateur collector in the field and Hooker back at Kew was one built on trust and mutual understanding.
But, as Jim Endersby explains, the relationships were frought with tension when it came to naming new plants. Arguments between those claiming they had found new species (often called "splitters") versus cautious botanists, such as Hooker, who would often "lump" together species as variants of the same, raised new debates about what constitutes a new species. And as Mark Chase, Keeper of Kew's Jodrell Laboratory reveals, the arguments continue today.
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also professor of long-term ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
06Taming The Exotic20140728To the Victorians the Amazonian water lily was more than just a plant. The adventure of finding this exotic piece of the Empire and getting it to grow on home soil involved horticultural ambition, scientific vision and fierce competition amongst the country's wealthy landowners.
Prof Kathy Willis hears about the race during the 1840s between Kew's director William Hooker and the Duke of Derbyshire's gardener Joseph Paxton to get the aquatic lily to flower. Historian and biographer Kate Colquhoun examines how the plant's exacting requirements demanded an entirely new approach to horticultural architecture, engineering and management of water and heat.
Lara Jewett, manager of Kew's tropical house, and Greg Redwood, head of Kew's glasshouses, explain why this voracious feeder and aquatic beauty still proves a challenge to cultivate today.
But botanists were quick to make the connection between repeating modular-like structures on the underside of the lily's leaf and the possibilities of new engineering design, which as Jim Endersby explains, was to inspire the use of essential giant greenhouses to cultivate food in soot laden cities, and for Joseph Paxton to ultimately create the greatest glasshouse ever built - Crystal Palace.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
06Taming The Exotic20140728
06Taming The Exotic20140728 (R4+)
20160229 (R4+)
To the Victorians the Amazonian water lily was more than just a plant. The adventure of finding this exotic piece of the Empire and getting it to grow on home soil involved horticultural ambition, scientific vision and fierce competition amongst the country's wealthy landowners.
Prof Kathy Willis hears about the race during the 1840s between Kew's director William Hooker and the Duke of Derbyshire's gardener Joseph Paxton to get the aquatic lily to flower. Historian and biographer Kate Colquhoun examines how the plant's exacting requirements demanded an entirely new approach to horticultural architecture, engineering and management of water and heat.
Lara Jewett, manager of Kew's tropical house, and Greg Redwood, head of Kew's glasshouses, explain why this voracious feeder and aquatic beauty still proves a challenge to cultivate today.
But botanists were quick to make the connection between repeating modular-like structures on the underside of the lily's leaf and the possibilities of new engineering design, which as Jim Endersby explains, was to inspire the use of essential giant greenhouses to cultivate food in soot laden cities, and for Joseph Paxton to ultimately create the greatest glasshouse ever built - Crystal Palace.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
07Tapping Into Rubber20140729Natural rubber derived from latex had long been a curiosity. When Nelson Goodyear perfected his method of vulcanisation of rubber and showcased its applications at the Great Exhibition of 1851 the possibilities now seemed endless.
But by 1860 demand was outstripping supply from Brazil. Kathy Willis examines how Kew was charged with getting seeds of this economically vital plant out of South America to germinate at Kew Gardens, and then to send seedlings off to cultivate in far flung reaches of the Empire.
The historian Emma Reisz explains how Kew acted as the international clearing house for smuggled seeds out of Brazil. Historian Jim Endersby sheds light on why Kew put its faith in one man: Henry Wickham, a travelling plant hunter with dubious botanical credentials. We hear from Mark Nesbitt, curator of Kew's economic botany collection, on how, despite rubber being recognised as an economically essential plant for the British Empire's economy, the whole business of transporting and nurturing the seedlings turned out to be a comically hit and miss affair.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
07Tapping Into Rubber20140729
07Tapping Into Rubber20140729 (R4+)
20160302 (R4+)
Kathy Willis explores the smuggling of rubber seeds from South America.
08Orchidmania20140730 (R4+)
20160302 (R4+)
Orchids are big business. Today over £5m of orchid hybrids are imported as cut flowers into the UK each year. For the Victorians orchids were the chosen ornaments of royalty and captured the 19th century fascination with scientific oddity and imperial conquest.
Prof Kathy Willis explores how orchids, one of the planet's most diverse family of plants, mesmerised Victorian devotees and became not only trophy plants of the rich but also a scientific tool to promote a new theory of evolution. The study of orchids also paved the way for cultivation of exotics for all.
Lara Jewitt tours the orchid glasshouses at Kew where over 3000 species are cultivated, and explains the biology unique to orchids that fuels interest for both scientists and plant lovers.
Darwin was fascinated with these rare and precious plants. Their unique pollination mechanisms helped back up his new evolutionary theory based upon natural selection. As historian Jim Endersby reveals, the delicate orchid was to play a part in getting botany a seat at the top table of scientific respectability.
Even in the 1850s, Kew's director Joseph Hooker had expressed concern about the damage orchid hunters were inflicting on the wild population. Whilst today many species remain endangered, V Sarasan, head of Kew's Conservation Biotechnology Unit, reveals how new conservation efforts in some of the most orchid species-rich areas of Madagascar are helping to successfully reintroduce endangered members of this vast but vulnerable flowering family back into the wild.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
10Patterns From Crossed Peas20140801In 1900 three papers by three botanists, unknown to each other, appeared in the same scientific journal. Each had independently "rediscovered" the rules of inheritance that Gregor Mendel had found four decades earlier in his solitary investigations of pea plants.
Kathy Willis reassesses Mendel's famous pea experiments in the light of his attempts to uncover what happens over several generations when hybrid plants are created. As historian Jim Endersby explains, Mendel's initial results may have stunned him and shown what plant breeders might have suspected for decades, but science now had mathematical laws to create new varieties.
Historian Greg Radick sheds light on how Mendelism, in the years leading up to the first World War, became heavily promoted by Cambridge botanist William Bateson and was put into action by the first Professor of Agricultural Botany, Roland Biffen. His success in creating new wheat hybrids is explained by a unique international assembly of wheat ears from the early 1900s, curated by Mark Nesbitt, Head of Kew's economic botany collection.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
11Towards The Light20140804The Nobel prize for Chemistry was awarded to German scientist Richard Willstatter in 1915 for his analysis of the green plant pigment chlorophyll. It marked a significant moment in the long history of piecing together the many elements that contribute to photosynthesis - the process by which plants draw in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and together with light and water can generate their own glucose and release oxygen back into the air. The limits of this process were now clear
Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby about defining moments in photosynthesis' long history and from Kew's Head of Conservation Biotechnology about how artificially elevating levels of carbon dioxide in the air,a technique long developed by horticulturists to produce bigger fruit and vegetable crops, is now having dramatic effects on successful reintroduction of cultivated endangered plants back into the wild.
And as scientists understand the different methods that plants use to photosynthesise, Kathy Willis hears from Oxford plant scientist Jane Langdale who's part of a network of international scientists who are attempting to mend a fundamental flaw in the process of photosynthesis which could improve future rice yields by 50%
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
11Towards The Light20140804The Nobel prize for Chemistry was awarded to German scientist Richard Willstatter in 1915 for his analysis of the green plant pigment chlorophyll. It marked a significant moment in the long history of piecing together the many elements that contribute to photosynthesis - the process by which plants draw in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and together with light and water can generate their own glucose and release oxygen back into the air. The limits of this process were now clear
Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby about defining moments in photosynthesis' long history and from Kew's Head of Conservation Biotechnology about how artificially elevating levels of carbon dioxide in the air,a technique long developed by horticulturists to produce bigger fruit and vegetable crops, is now having dramatic effects on successful reintroduction of cultivated endangered plants back into the wild.
And as scientists understand the different methods that plants use to photosynthesise, Kathy Willis hears from Oxford plant scientist Jane Langdale who's part of a network of international scientists who are attempting to mend a fundamental flaw in the process of photosynthesis which could improve future rice yields by 50%
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
11Towards The Light20140804
12Multiple Genes20140805In 1903 a cluster of evening primrose in an abandoned potato field outside the Dutch town of Hilversum caught the eye of German botanist Hugo de Vries. Its huge blooms and large leaves appeared to suggest the sudden development of a new species. Around the same time in Kew Gardens a mysterious primula hybrid appeared. The new discipline of plant genetics soon revealed that this curious trick was being driven by multiplication of chromosomes inside the plant cell nucleus.
Professor Kathy Willis examines this phenomenon - known as polyploidy ( "multiple forms") - and how insights into this peculiarity can contribute to the evolutionary success of plants. It may also hold the answer to one of the botanical world's greatest mysteries - why so soon after appearing in the fossil record did the flowering plants suddenly explode into the bewildering range of species we see today.
With contributions from historian Jim Endersby, Keeper of Kew's Jodrell Lab Mark Chase, and Jodrell Laboratory geneticist Illia Leitch.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
13Battling Bark And Beetle20140806By the end of the First World War the mysterious sudden death of elms was a common sight across Belgium and the Netherlands. Dutch researchers managed to elucidate the real culprit amidst rumours of drought or wartime gas poisoning. It was a fungus thought to originate from America, carried by a beetle and the disease rather unfairly gained its name Dutch elm disease. Diagnosis produced no cure and it soon advanced across the channel to Britain.
Professor Kathy Willis talks to the head of Kew's arboretum, Tony Kirkham, on the disease's impact amidst complacency, and how the emergence of a vigorous new fungal strain was to completely transform the landscape during its peak in the 1970's.
Now that the principle replacement for lost elms, ash, itself has fallen victim to the latest disease to hitch a ride on incoming nursery stock, Paul Smith, Head of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, explains why this new disease could be easier to control.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
14Hunt For Diversity20140807Agriculture tends to favour the best food varieties but this is often a trade off with beneficial traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance to drought. During the 1920s the Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov, having witnessed famine on a large scale, became increasingly concerned about the potential loss of locally adapted varieties and spent his life studying crop plants in their wild habitats.
Professor Kathy Willis examines Vavilov's pioneering work and his search for pools of genetic variability - so called "centres of origin" amongst the wild relatives of our domesticated crops that could help sustain future plant breeding for human use.
Vavilov's story has a tragic end but, as we hear, his legacy lives on in seedbanks such as Kew's Millennium Seedbank at Wakehurst Place whose Crop Wild Relatives Project is collecting and assessing new potential amongst the original progenitors of our domestic crops.
With contributions from archaeobotanist Dorian Fuller, Kew's curator of economic botany Mark Nesbitt, Crop Wild Relatives Project coordinator Ruth Eastwood, and head of the Millennium Seedbank Paul Smith.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
15Botanical Medicine20140808In 1947 Sir Robert Robinson received the Nobel prize for Chemistry "in recognition of his investigations of plant products of biological importance, especially the alkaloids". This powerful family of plant chemicals was proving a potent medical tool.
Professor Kathy Willis traces the natural role of alkaloids in plants and the first attempts to isolate one of the best know - quinine, from chinchona bark growing in the Andes. This development gave rise to the emergence of a new kind of laboratory scientist equally able to handle botanical and chemical data. As Mark Nesbitt, Keeper of Kew's Economic Botany Collection explains, this was to eliminate the chance and guesswork in identifying "good" plants from "bad".
Professor Monique Simmons of Kew's Jodrell Laboratory, assesses why chemicals from the plant kingdom are still needed in the fight against some of our most challenging diseases, from breast cancer to cardiovascular disease, and how making the nuanced connections between plant species is central to success in this field.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
16Signals Of Growth20140811When in 1934 botanist Kenneth Thimann isolated the plant hormone auxin, he put an end to one of the great botanical mysteries - how plants move and respond to their surroundings. For decades plant scientists had been mystified as to how plants, without any apparent nervous system, bent towards light, flowered at the right time of year, or grew away from other plants.
Professor Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby on how the discovery of plant hormones was the culmination of a journey that had involved Charles Darwin and a series of probing experiments published in his book "The Power of Movement in Plants". They discuss how new technologies enabled successful isolation of what we now have come to recognise as a suite of hormones regulating a whole series of plant responses from stem growth to fruiting.
We hear how another hormone during the 1950s went on to steal the limelight - gibberellin whose discovery owes much to Japanese rice crops that grew so tall they would simply fall over, rendering them useless. The race to harness the power of gibberellin would lead to dwarf varieties of key crops that transformed global production in what became known as the Green Revolution.
Professor Nick Harberd, a plant geneticist at Oxford University, has been researching the molecular basis of plants' response to this powerful hormone and he sheds light on developing crops suitable for harsher environments in future.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
17Unlocking Biodiversity20140812In 1947 an ambitious project began to survey and catalogue the biodiversity of plants in East Africa. It was to take 60 years and turned out to be one of the largest regional "floras" ever assembled, involving 135 botanists from 21 countries amassing a host of new species to science.
Professor Kathy Willis examines the deceptive simplicity of creating Floras - books in which plants are catalogued, described and often lavishly illustrated. She explores how they're proving powerful tools for unlocking the range of newly discovered species for plant enthusiasts and conservationists.
And she unlocks the secrets of the rigorous art of botanical illustration, a tradition that goes back as far as when the botanical impresario Sir Joseph Banks first employed an illustrator on board the Endeavour. Kathy Willis discovers why this discipline is unlikely to ever be superseded by photography.
With contributions from Henke Beentje, former editor of Flora of Tropical East Africa, senior botanist Iain Darbyshire, Quentin Luke of National Museum of Kenya and illustrator Lucy Smith
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
18An Ill Wind20140813During the early hours of October 16th 1987, hurricane force winds ripped through southern England recording gusts of 110 mph. In just a few hours 15 million trees across the country were felled. Dawn revealed over 700 of Kew's trees sprawled on their sides, their root systems spread in the cool calm air after the storm.
Kathy Willis explores how one Kew oak tree - the Turner Oak - that didn't fall, helped transform the understanding of tree planting, arboreal care and provided insights into why trees stay upright.
She takes a walk with arborealist Tony Kirkham around Kew Gardens to learn how this natural clearout gave a once in a generation chance to rethink Kew's arboreal canvas. It also created an opportunity for the first ever comprehensive tree root survey which has since transformed our approach to tree planting and long term care that's now finding its way into horticultural practices today.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
19Capsules Of Life20140814By the end of the 20th century, concerns raised in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit about the fate of wild plants and their ecosystems meant that conservation in the field now needed to be complemented by methods away from a plant's natural habitat.
Professor Kathy Willis pays a visit to the underground vaults of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP), one in a network of 1300 seed banks around the world - and one of the main "ex situ" methods for conserving plant genetic material.
Knowing the longevity and quality of seeds is vital if they're to be put to good use in the real world. We hear a testament to the length of seed survival as head of the MSBP reveals recent success in germinating a 200 year old packet of seeds collected from the Dutch East India Company Gardens in South Africa. And Kathy Willis discovers how research into variable climates during crop cycles on seed quality is providing new leads into which varieties of crops seeds to store, to ensure future sustainable food supplies.
With contributions from seed morphologist Wolfgang Stuppy, MSB seed manager Janet Terry, Paul Smith head of the MSBP, and Hugh Pritchard head of MSBP seed conservation.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
20A Useful Weed20140815At a glance, Arabidopsis thaliana (Mouse ear cress) looks little more than a tiny flowering weed. But this nondescript plant became a Rosetta stone for understanding the molecular processes underpinning many plant traits when in 2000 it became the first plant to have its genome fully sequenced.
Professor Kathy Willis hears how Arabidopsis bagged the role in plant genetics research similar to that played by mice and fruit flies in animal research, and how amidst arguments for and against the technique of modification, it became a key to introducing new characteristics in a quicker and more targeted way than traditional plant breeding.
The overall size of the Arabidopsis genome however, is not typical of many plants. We hear how a new understanding of the surprisingly diverse range of genome sizes within the plant kingdom is shedding light on the speed of a plant's ability to reproduce and adapt in changing conditions, which could play a fundamental role in decoding the patterns of plant distribution we see around the world.
With contributions from historian Jim Endersby, plant scientist Prof Liam Dolan and cytogeneticist Ilia Leitch.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
21A Blooming Tree Of Life20140818The new science of DNA sequencing during the 1990's would not only lead to the mapping of complete human and plant genomes but it was to also revolutionise the classification for flowering plants. For the first time, rather than the 200 year old tradition of classifying plants just on their shape and structures, scientists could begin to infer how closely plants were related by examining the differences in DNA between different families and species.
Kathy Willis examines the story of how new connections between plants were uncovered that appearance alone could never have suggested. She talks to Kew's Mark Chase, leader of the Angiosperm Plant Phylogeny Group - an international group of scientists who pioneered this work, and hears how this molecular analysis was to rewrite some of the many assumptions that we've made about close relationships within and between plant families.
Kathy also hears from plant morphologist Paula Rudell on how detailed pollen analysis was to back up some of the controversial findings that this work was suggesting The practical implications of this new way of classifying are huge and could open the way to identifying new plants for medicinal use, and help accurately determine the ability of plants to withstand future environmental change.
With additional contributions from Kew taxonomist Gwil Lewis and historian Jim Endersby
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
22Dynamic Rainforest20140819Palms provide many basic necessities and are collectively one of the most important plants families after grasses and legumes. In 2007 and extraordinary new find came to light when a French plantation manager in Madagascar, came across a new species of palm tree 18metres high and with a 5m leaf span - visible from Google Earth. The palm family continues to grow at a rapid rate As new species make themselves known to science it's becoming vital to appreciate their potential uses. Discoveries are also helping to shed light on the "palm tree of life".
Professor Kathy Willis meets Head of Palms at Kew, Bill Baker, to examine how new technology such as DNA sequencing has come to provide an amazing evolutionary record of palms over timescales greater than the fossil record can offer. Crucially, it's beginning to show when the diversification of palms began. In doing so, the genetic analysis is beginning to rewrite our understanding of the origins of the rainforest and looking to favour Alfred Russel Wallace's overlooked "museum model " of the evolution of ancient rainforests.
With additional contributions from head of the Kew Palm House Scott Taylor, and former Head of Palms at Kew, John Dransfield
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
23Capture And Drawdown20140820In 2005 a landmark study was published which changed the political landscape for conservation, probably for ever. Rather than viewing biodiversity as something to be conserved for conservation's sake, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment started to assess the contributions that biodiversity makes to human livelihoods and well-being. These include regulating services ( such as modulating climate), cultural services (the spiritual, educational and recreational value) and provisioning services (the biodiversity that provides food, fresh water, and fuel).
Professor Kathy Willis examines the first of these new approaches to biodiversity conservation by firstly assessing the role plants play in regulating our atmospheric carbon dioxide. She talks to Yadvinder Mahli on the importance of trees in drawing down and capturing carbon and on new understandings in where the effect is most apparent on our planet.
But how we view ecosystems at the landscape scale is equally important if plants are to flourish in this capacity and recent reduction in vital plant pollination services are proving to be poorly understood.
But as Kathy Willis hears from chemistry ecologist Phil Stevenson, one of several approaches in improving the memory of bees that account for 30% of plant pollination could have a dramatic and significant effect in securing this vital function.
Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
24Green And Pleasant Lands20140821Prof. Kathy Willis examines the different kinds of spiritual, physical and intellectual links that we have with the landscape and their diverse ecosystems and the extent to which they contribute to our health and well being.
As well as providing a source of inspiration and recreation there's plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that green spaces can make a positive contribution to our health, but what kinds of landscapes are of greatest benefit?
Kathy Willis assesses the some of the latest research assessing physiological and psycholgical benefits that ecosystems can provide from manicured botanical gardens to wild open countryside
With contributions from Richard Barley, director of horticulture Kew Gardens; Rachel Bragg researcher in Green Care at Essex University, Shonil Bhagwat environmental geographer at the OU,and historian Jim Endersby
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
25The Great Providers20140822Prof Kathy Willis concludes her major new history series by asking how much plant biodiversity is worth, and examines new research into securing the future of our staple crops.
Understanding the distribution, diversity and potential of plants for food, lay at the heart of the 18th century botanical impresario Joseph Banks' vision to "improve Britain's estates of the world". To secure future resilience of crops in today's world there's a growing need to conserve the closest wild relatives of our staple crops.
Kathy Willis discovers, given climatic threats to some of our most substantial crops such as coffee - for which the industry currently depends on a single species, the economic value of wild relatives of today's domestic crops is considerable.
And as we hear, some important future crops are still to be found from previously overlooked plants.
With contributions from Richard Thompson, Business valuations partner at Price-Waterhouse Cooper; historian Jim Endersby; head of coffee research at Kew, Aaron Davis; Kew's head of yams Paul Wilkin.
Producer Adrian Washbourne
Music for the series was composed by Mark Russell
Plants: From Roots to Riches01A Rose By Any Other Name20140721The 18th century's age of travel and enlightenment meant that a vast influx of newly discovered plants into Europe was creating a botanical tower of Babel. No common language for plants and a wealth of long and localised names made communication about plant species often impossible. Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus dedicated his life to developing a proper system of naming and placing plants into a new ordered hierarchy.

Professor Kathy Willis launches the series by talking to Jim Endersby, historian at Sussex University, who argues that Linnaeus' system of plant classification established the roots of botany as we now know it and revolutionised the economics and movement of plant species and their riches across the globe, and how they are referred to.

She speaks with Linnaean archivist Gina Douglas and learns how in 1753 his System Naturae placed plants into a hierarchy of relationships based on the number of reproductive organs, in the hope of uncovering the machinery of nature. Whilst much of what Linnaeus developed has now been superseded by a more natural system of classification, his method of naming still dominates today

Producer: Adrian Washbourne

Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is Director of Science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also Professor of Long-term Ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
Plants: From Roots to Riches02Plants To Shape Society20140722The 18th century botanical impresario Sir Joseph Banks was convinced that Britain's destiny was as the major civilising power in the world, and this could be achieved by harnessing botany and imperial progress to each other's mutual benefit.

Professor Kathy Willis talks to Linnaean Society honorary archivist, Gina Douglas, on how Britain's acquisition of Carl Linnaeus' collection of books and specimens proved the tool to promote, identify, and trade plants across the Empire.

She hears from Richard Barley, Director of Horticulture at Kew and former director of Melbourne's Botanic Gardens, who discusses Banks' influence on the choice of plants taken with the first settlers to Australia.

But how central were plants to Britain's colonial project? Historian Jim Endersby weighs up Joseph Banks' 18th century vision to use Kew as a centre to gather as many plants and plant products as possible, not only to enrich the Royal Garden's collection but for Kew to also function as a botanical exchange house between the colonies.


Producer: Adrian Washbourne

Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is Director of Science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also Professor of Long-term Ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
Plants: From Roots to Riches02Plants To Shape Society20140722
Plants: From Roots to Riches03Pressed Plants And Possibilities20140723The Victorians realised that preserving the structural features of a plant was essential to classifying it, placing it on a plant family tree and building up an overall understanding of the relationships between plants. Central to this was the herbarium - a collection of dried plants documented, pressed and mounted onto identical sheets of paper. Kathy Willis examines the genesis of this process at Kew which plays host today to over 7 million specimens, and is now one of a network of herbaria around the world.

If you want to know what a plant is, the herbarium is where you come. But how was the Kew collection established? Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby on the influence of William Jackson Hooker whose private plant collection forms the basis of the collection.

Historian Anne Secord of Cambridge University examines the delicate relationship between artisan collectors in the field and gentlemen botanists which defied the rigid social divide to enable specimens to be gathered from far afield to advance botanical knowledge.

Kathy Willis learns from Kew botanist, Bill Baker, how patterns now emerge in the herbarium that enable changing patterns of plant behaviour from flowering times to plant distribution to feed into wider questions about the effect of changing climate and land use.

And in an age when the Empire was aiming to show everything to its best advantage researcher Caroline Cornish reveals how plants could be effectively displayed to a curious Victorian public through Britain's first Museum of Economic Botany.


Producer: Adrian Washbourne

Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also professor of long-term ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
Plants: From Roots to Riches03Pressed Plants And Possibilities20140723
Plants: From Roots to Riches04Blight On The Landscape20140724Out of the tragedy of the Irish potato famine was to emerge a major new discipline in science - plant pathology. Infectious microorganisms would come to be accepted as a cause of disease rather than its result.

Kathy Willis hears from Kew's head of mycology, Brin Dentinger, on the significance of German botanist Antony de Bary's experiments that would lead to a new understanding of the causes of potato blight.

Insights into the life cycle and behaviour of fungal spores required detailed and repetitive observations. Some of the most important insights in the 19th century came from children's story writer and natural history illustrator Beatrix Potter. Historian Jim Endersby explains how her careful observations contributed to the controversial idea that many fungi, far from being destructive, live in symbiosis with a host of plants.

Kew mycologist Martin Bidartondo studies this relationship and we hear how thanks to new technology enabling researchers to identify fungal DNA we're on the brink of elucidating the real importance of fungi in today's ecosystems.

Producer Adrian Washbourne

Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also professor of long-term ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
Plants: From Roots to Riches04Blight On The Landscape20140724
Plants: From Roots to Riches05Lumping And Splitting20140725By 1850 identifying and classifying plants had become far more important than mere list making. Establishing the global laws of botany - what grew where and why - occupied the well travelled naturalist Joseph Hooker - son of Kew's director William Hooker and close friend of Charles Darwin. Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby on how Hooker was to acquire species from all over the world to build up the first accurate maps of the world's flora.

Mark Nesbitt, curator of Kew's economic botany collection, reveals how gifts to Hooker in the collection reveal the relationship between the amateur collector in the field and Hooker back at Kew was one built on trust and mutual understanding.

But, as Jim Endersby explains, the relationships were frought with tension when it came to naming new plants. Arguments between those claiming they had found new species (often called "splitters") versus cautious botanists, such as Hooker, who would often "lump" together species as variants of the same, raised new debates about what constitutes a new species. And as Mark Chase, Keeper of Kew's Jodrell Laboratory reveals, the arguments continue today.

Producer: Adrian Washbourne

Presenter: KATHY WILLIS is director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. She is also professor of long-term ecology and a fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over 20 years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.
Plants: From Roots to Riches05Lumping And Splitting20140725
Plants: From Roots to Riches08Orchidmania20140730Orchids are big business. Today over £5m of orchid hybrids are imported as cut flowers into the UK each year. For the Victorians orchids were the chosen ornaments of royalty and captured the 19th century fascination with scientific oddity and imperial conquest.

Prof Kathy Willis explores how orchids, one of the planet's most diverse family of plants, mesmerised Victorian devotees and became not only trophy plants of the rich but also a scientific tool to promote a new theory of evolution. The study of orchids also paved the way for cultivation of exotics for all.

Lara Jewitt tours the orchid glasshouses at Kew where over 3000 species are cultivated, and explains the biology unique to orchids that fuels interest for both scientists and plant lovers.

Darwin was fascinated with these rare and precious plants. Their unique pollination mechanisms helped back up his new evolutionary theory based upon natural selection. As historian Jim Endersby reveals, the delicate orchid was to play a part in getting botany a seat at the top table of scientific respectability.

Even in the 1850s, Kew's director Joseph Hooker had expressed concern about the damage orchid hunters were inflicting on the wild population. Whilst today many species remain endangered, V Sarasan, head of Kew's Conservation Biotechnology Unit, reveals how new conservation efforts in some of the most orchid species-rich areas of Madagascar are helping to successfully reintroduce endangered members of this vast but vulnerable flowering family back into the wild.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Plants: From Roots to Riches08Orchidmania20140730
Plants: From Roots to Riches09Plant Invaders20140731The Victorians' pride at the effortless movement of plants around the world during the late 19th century was having an unwelcome side effect. Invasive species were beginning to wipe out native populations of plants. With no natural predators to control them, one man's flower was turning into another man's weed.

Prof Kathy Willis hears how during the late 1800s, many invasive species from Japanese knot weed to Himalayan balsam to water hyacinth came from deliberate introductions and asks if today, trying to control them is ultimately futile?

As historian Jim Endersby explains both Charles Darwin and Kew's director Joseph Hooker were the first to examine the impact of invasives, having noticed on the island of St Helena and Ascension Island the effect on native plants.

One of the current biggest invaders is lantana, familiar to British gardeners as a small pot plant. As Shonil Baghwat of the Open University reveals, since its introduction to Kolkata Botanical garden in the 1870s it decimated native teak plantations. But today opportunities exist to exploit its presence for the wood, basketry and paper industries.

And Kathy Willis hears from Kew conservationist Colin Clubbe on the extent to which we should view invasive plants in our ecosystems as part of a strategy to maintain resilience to environmental change in the future.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Plants: From Roots to Riches09Plant Invaders20140731
Plants: From Roots to Riches12Multiple Genes20140805In 1903 a cluster of evening primrose in an abandoned potato field outside the Dutch town of Hilversum caught the eye of German botanist Hugo de Vries. Its huge blooms and large leaves appeared to suggest the sudden development of a new species. Around the same time in Kew Gardens a mysterious primula hybrid appeared. The new discipline of plant genetics soon revealed that this curious trick was being driven by multiplication of chromosomes inside the plant cell nucleus.

Professor Kathy Willis examines this phenomenon - known as polyploidy ( "multiple forms") - and how insights into this peculiarity can contribute to the evolutionary success of plants. It may also hold the answer to one of the botanical world's greatest mysteries - why so soon after appearing in the fossil record did the flowering plants suddenly explode into the bewildering range of species we see today.

With contributions from historian Jim Endersby, Keeper of Kew's Jodrell Lab Mark Chase, and Jodrell Laboratory geneticist Illia Leitch.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Plants: From Roots to Riches12Multiple Genes20140805
Plants: From Roots to Riches15Botanical Medicine20140808In 1947 Sir Robert Robinson received the Nobel prize for Chemistry "in recognition of his investigations of plant products of biological importance, especially the alkaloids". This powerful family of plant chemicals was proving a potent medical tool.

Professor Kathy Willis traces the natural role of alkaloids in plants and the first attempts to isolate one of the best know - quinine, from chinchona bark growing in the Andes. This development gave rise to the emergence of a new kind of laboratory scientist equally able to handle botanical and chemical data. As Mark Nesbitt, Keeper of Kew's Economic Botany Collection explains, this was to eliminate the chance and guesswork in identifying "good" plants from "bad".

Professor Monique Simmons of Kew's Jodrell Laboratory, assesses why chemicals from the plant kingdom are still needed in the fight against some of our most challenging diseases, from breast cancer to cardiovascular disease, and how making the nuanced connections between plant species is central to success in this field.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Plants: From Roots to Riches15Botanical Medicine20140808
Plants: From Roots to Riches16Signals Of Growth20140811When in 1934 botanist Kenneth Thimann isolated the plant hormone auxin, he put an end to one of the great botanical mysteries - how plants move and respond to their surroundings. For decades plant scientists had been mystified as to how plants, without any apparent nervous system, bent towards light, flowered at the right time of year, or grew away from other plants.

Professor Kathy Willis hears from historian Jim Endersby on how the discovery of plant hormones was the culmination of a journey that had involved Charles Darwin and a series of probing experiments published in his book "The Power of Movement in Plants". They discuss how new technologies enabled successful isolation of what we now have come to recognise as a suite of hormones regulating a whole series of plant responses from stem growth to fruiting.

We hear how another hormone during the 1950s went on to steal the limelight - gibberellin whose discovery owes much to Japanese rice crops that grew so tall they would simply fall over, rendering them useless. The race to harness the power of gibberellin would lead to dwarf varieties of key crops that transformed global production in what became known as the Green Revolution.

Professor Nick Harberd, a plant geneticist at Oxford University, has been researching the molecular basis of plants' response to this powerful hormone and he sheds light on developing crops suitable for harsher environments in future.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Plants: From Roots to Riches16Signals Of Growth20140811
Plants: From Roots to Riches17Unlocking Biodiversity20140812In 1947 an ambitious project began to survey and catalogue the biodiversity of plants in East Africa. It was to take 60 years and turned out to be one of the largest regional "floras" ever assembled, involving 135 botanists from 21 countries amassing a host of new species to science.

Professor Kathy Willis examines the deceptive simplicity of creating Floras - books in which plants are catalogued, described and often lavishly illustrated. She explores how they're proving powerful tools for unlocking the range of newly discovered species for plant enthusiasts and conservationists.

And she unlocks the secrets of the rigorous art of botanical illustration, a tradition that goes back as far as when the botanical impresario Sir Joseph Banks first employed an illustrator on board the Endeavour. Kathy Willis discovers why this discipline is unlikely to ever be superseded by photography.

With contributions from Henke Beentje, former editor of Flora of Tropical East Africa, senior botanist Iain Darbyshire, Quentin Luke of National Museum of Kenya and illustrator Lucy Smith

Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Plants: From Roots to Riches17Unlocking Biodiversity20140812

Advertising

Genre

  • "Documentaries / History / Factual / Nature and Environment / Science and Nature