More than naming of parts

Published online

Botany underpins the modern world, not only agriculture but medicine, material science, chemistry and much more. Yet it has been belittled to the point where even the name botany is out of favour; too outdated for a modern science. Thankfully botanical researchers continue to look forward, not back.

On the 11 July 1872 Nature published an open letter (Nature 6, 211–216) to the then Prime Minister, William Gladstone, complaining of the treatment of the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Sir Joseph Hooker, at the hands of the First Commissioner of Works, Acton Smee Ayrton. It is a letter of barely described fury, signed by no lesser people than Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, George Bentham, Thomas Henry Huxley and others. The letter praises both Hooker and his father William for their contributions to botany and their stewardship of Kew Gardens, and details a concerted campaign on the part of Ayrton to undermine Hooker and induce him to resign. This was a shot in a long battle in which the unquantifiable worth of Europe’s foremost botanical garden was stacked against the too-easily calculated cost of maintaining it. Read more.