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Plants in Art and Culture – How Plants Created Society Mark Spencer Wednesday 17 October 2018

I have been fascinated by plants since I was a small boy. Originally a horticulturist, I studied horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I also studied botany and mycology at university, after which I worked as a field botanist for a regional conservation organisation. After 12 years as a senior botany curator at the Natural History Museum, London I am now a consultant forensic botanist, public speaker and occasional radio and TV presenter. I am the honorary curator of Carl Linnaeus’s herbarium at the Linnean Society of London, one of the most significant collections in the history of science. I have a strong interest in the history of botany and botanic gardens, invasive non-native species and the flora of North-West Europe. 

In recent years, the concept of ‘plant blindness’ has been coined to identify our tendency to overlook plants. Yet, plants are the dominant aspect of the natural world around us, few of us notice London Plane trees on our way to work. Conversely, we often talk of our own cultural identities in terms framed by language referring to plants – thus the ‘English’ oak is a symbol of national endurance and steadfastness. Or we use motifs based on plants such as Acanthus to decorate our public spaces or Convolvulus to embrace a picture in a frame. The plants we place around us denote our emotional state of being, white lilies for mourning or laurel for celebrations of victory. We are plants.