Forthcoming talks:

Glasgow: Tuesday 3rd October. Talk on Joseph Hooker for the Baldernock Gardening Club.

Edinburgh: Wednesday 4th October, “Sir Joseph Hooker; putting plants in their place”, Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, 7.30pm in the Lecture Theatre at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Inverleith Row, EH3 5LR. More details on their website.

Cambridge: Friday 8 December, 09.45 – 12.30 pm. “Hooker and the Plant Collectors”, Christmas Lecture, Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust.  St John’s College, St John’s Street, Cambridge CB2 1TP. More details on their website.

 Hooker bicentenary

Old Hooker2017 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Joseph Dalton Hooker, botanist, explorer and plant collector, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, friend of Charles Darwin, but most famous for having been the subject of my PhD dissertation (ahem).

I have curated a small exhibition about Hooker at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery, Kew (25 March–17 September 2017). It got a wonderful review in the New Scientist on 5th May. I wrote a short piece about Hooker for Nature recently (22 June 2017).

I led a tour of the exhibition in April and did another one in July. I also spoke at a conference there on 30 June to celebrate his birthday, which – as you can see from the picture above – was a great success (yes, they really are queueing out the door for an event about the history of botany!). Many thanks to Ginny Mills, my fellow speakers and all those who worked so hard to make the day such a success. I was interviewed about the exhibition for BBC Radio 4’s “Inside Science” (10th August); you can hear the clip online (the segment on Hooker is at the end of the program, about 19 minutes in).

Orchid news

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently featured me in “Orchids: A love story” (11th June 2017), which you can hear online.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, The Garden, reviewed Orchid: A cultural history (May 2017), describing it as compact and readable, and saying: “This book captures the allure of orchids – and there is something for everyone, from complete beginner to more knowledgeable reader”. The Times Literary Supplement reviewed the book on 24 Feb 2017 and commented that “Endersby loves all the myth-making that became entwined with the orchid, and explores with great acuity the various ways this was exploited. But, as a Reader in the History of Science at the University of Sussex, he is as adept at laying out the facts as the fiction”. London’s Sunday Times described it as “lively, gripping stuff” (15 Jan 2017), and I was interviewed about it on US public radio station WCIN. You can hear the program online.

From pseudocopulation to human flight…

… was the title that the Institute of Historical Research used for their list of ten of the most interesting historical articles published last year. I was utterly thrilled to discover that a recent paper I wrote about Darwin and orchids was one of them (and the only history of science paper in the list). I was asked to write a short piece about how my paper came about by Cambridge University Press (it appeared in one of their journals); if you’re interested, you can read it here.

Orchid: A Cultural history

The book covers the history of these extraordinary, beautiful and much-mythologised flowers, ranging from their earliest history, via Charles Darwin’s work on their fertilisation, orchids in film and literature, to a recent scientific study of the impact of climate change on native British orchids.

Every plant that has ever been important to humans – whether it provided food, shelter or bouquets for lovers – has acquired a rich range of complex (and often contradictory) associations. Humans seem to secrete allegories the way spiders secrete silk, so it is not surprising that particular flowers have come to symbolise everything from sentiments to nations, others feature in poetry or folk superstitions, still more feature in our mythologies, as well as in our religions, literatures, and medicine. Each human culture has constructed its own set of meanings around particular types of flowers. So the fact that orchids have their own very specific set of meanings is only to be unexpected but the meanings of orchids are some of the weirdest ever to have become linked to a plant. They are sexy but deadly. Slightly kinky, luxurious and expensive. Delicate “hot house” flowers, not really adapted to the real world, but capable of killing. Mostly found in mysterious distant jungles, orchids are often feminine and delicate, which may be why larger-than-life male heroes have to be imagined as the only ones who can bring them home safely. People will commit crimes for them, even kill or die for orchids.

I will be talking about orchids at various venues over the next year and will be post information here when I have it, but in the meantime:

  • BBC Radio 4 broadcast a program I made about orchids on 26th January 2016. You can listen to it online, here.
  • I gave the John Innes Centre’s annual history of science lecture (21st April 2016) on orchids.
  • I talked about my orchid research last year, when I give the annual Founder’s Day lecture at the Linnean Society of London (2 December 2014). They recorded the talk, so you can watch me in action.

There is more about the book on the Orchid page.