Archive | December, 2014

John Innes rare books images now accessible through the Mary Evans Picture Library


A set of 101 historic images from the John Innes Historical Collections is now digitised and available online in the Mary Evans Picture Library. This is the fruition of a summer project with John Innes Centre photographer Andrew Davis and our digitisation intern David Whittle  who digitised, tagged, categorised, and uploaded the images to the online library this autumn. As Outreach Curator, it was my task to choose the images. Initially I selected images of interest to the history of science community, as well as some particularly eye-catching pictures. The result is eclectic (some might say eccentric) but I thought it was important to show that as well as covering botanical illustration we have some unusual and unexpected items on our library shelves. I hope to expand the selection in the future to represent the full range of subjects and styles of illustration in the rare books.

These images are a taste of the rich material in the JIC Rare Books Room. Early images date back from the sixteenth century, with woodcuts such as these examples from 1536 depicting teasels and a mandrake.

Mandrake, from Herbolario Volgare, 1536

Mandrake, from Herbolario Volgare, 1536


Teasels, or 'Shepherd's Rod', 1536

Teasels, or ‘Shepherd’s Rod’, 1536



The rare books collection is an important resource covering natural science, horticulture and botanical art across five centuries. I hope the Mary Evans digital library will be accessed by lovers of botanical art, science history, gardening, plant diversity and the seekers of unusual images.

Scientists at the John Innes Centre have already been making use of the images in the collection. Enrico Coen’s group have been displaying the collection’s antique prints of the carnivorous bladderworts and pitcher plants they work on, investigating the development of cup shaped leaf traps.

Karen Lee, a Research Scientist in Coen’s group comments: “The Historical Collection is a treasure trove not only of beautiful botanical prints but of the stories of botanists who discovered carnivorous plants in the wild and created images of them without the modern microscopic tools we have at our disposal today. As scientists working on carnivorous plant development we feel a special link to the stories, images and observations from this earlier generation of botanic researchers.”

Venus Flytrap by John Ellis, 1770

Venus Fly-trap by John Ellis, 1770

A hand-painted engraving of a similarly sinister carnivorous plant is now a part of the John Innes Centre collection within the Mary Evans Picture Library. The image is taken from the first report of “a new sensitive plant,” the Venus fly trap, or Dionaea muscipula. John Ellis, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a regular correspondent of Linnaeus, discovered a specimen of the plant on a 1770s trade voyage to the Americas. Ellis’ excited letter to Linnaeus details the habitat and appearance of the strange new plant, accompanied by this delicate and carefully coloured engraving.

This small selection of images gives only a glimpse of the diversity of the John Innes Historical Collections. Future additions to the selection will be tailored to the current interests of JIC science and the broad range of interests of the wider community.

The John Innes images are available for reproduction in projects from the commercial to the academic. The Mary Evans Picture Library specialises in preserving and distributing images of historical interest which display skill and creativity on the part of the artist, making them accessible to broad online audiences. As part of the Mary Evans project, prints and copies of the images are available at Prints-Online.

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