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North American Landscape: Kew at the British Museum

North American Landscape: Kew at the British Museum

Exhibition preview

THIS SUMMER, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the British Museum will create a North American-themed landscape on the Museum’s west lawn.

North American Landscape, on display from May 10 to November 25, 2012, will focus on eastern and central North America, from Florida in the south to New England and Canada in the north.

North America hosts a large percentage of the world’s broadleaf forests, temperate grasslands and Mediterranean-climate vegetation.

North American Landscape will take visitors on a journey across the North American continent by featuring unique and rare plants from its differing climates, and showcasing its rich biodiversity as well as contextual information on exploration, plant discoveries by Europeans and introduction into the UK, plant uses and threats, and indigenous themes.

Examples include sweet grass (Hierchloe odorata) that is used as incense because of its vanilla scent and is sacred to many of the indigenous Peoples of North America, who believe smoke from burning dried sweet grass welcomes in good spirits.

Many of the grasses’ natural habitats of wet meadows, lake-shores, stream banks and low prairies have been lost and in Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina sweet grass is now endangered.

The orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) is a member of the daisy family and is a prairie wildflower that thrives in open woods, meadows and pastures. The species was first described in England in 1789 by William Aiton, the first curator of Kew Gardens, in his catalogue of plants cultivated at Kew. Loss of habitat means this species is now endangered in New Jersey.

North American Landscape and the accompanying events will connect to the material culture shown in the North American Gallery, exploring how the native peoples of the eastern seaboard had a close relationship with the landscape and its vegetation and were important contributors to European understanding of botany and natural history.

Examples include the bark birch containers used by Native Americans to collect the sugary sap from trees like the Silver Maple, or the beautiful souvenirs made by Native women from Paper Birch bark for trading.

The natural history of North America is of worldwide scientific, ecological and cultural importance. The United States is classified by Conservation International as one of the world’s mega-diverse countries. These countries harbour a majority of the earth’s species.

Natural vegetation in this region is under threat and many plant species face extinction. Through the Seeds of Success programme, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is working in partnership with organisations in the USA and Canada to address threats to habitats and support the re-establishment of plants and eco-systems at risk.

The Seeds of Success programme has collected over 3,000 native species for safe storage in seed banks in North America, with duplicate collections held at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Kew’s country garden, Wakehurst Place.

North American Landscape is the fifth in a partnership programme between the British Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, that has created habitats from China (2008), India (2009), South Africa (2010) and Australia (2011).

The landscapes have been themed to complement the public programmes at the British Museum and Kew. They celebrate the shared vision of both institutions to strengthen cultural understanding, support biodiversity conservation across the world, and raise awareness of global threats to fragile ecosystems.

North American Landscape Gallery

For more information visit www.britishmuseum.org/.

Admission: Free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 5.30pm, Fridays until 8.30pm

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG