About a month ago, I wrote about a visit to Harvard’s Museum of Natural History. Friend, fellow science writer, and Bostonian Lila Guterman asked me why I hadn’t written about the glass flowers. Because they’re so awesome they deserve their own post, that’s why.
In the late 19th century, father-and-son team Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka were making glass models of invertebrate sea creatures. There wasn’t a good way to preserve jellyfish and such, so they made lifelike, detailed models out of glass. The head of Harvard’s Botanical Museum found out about them and hired them to make glass models of plants.
So I’m at the museum. I know the glass flowers are famous. I walk into the glass flower room. I look at the first display case:
And I’m like, well, ok, that’s a perfectly nice specimen of a grass, so where are the glass flowers?
It took me a while to catch on that, no, really, everything was glass. I expected it to look like…glass. Shiny. A little translucent. But that’s not what the Blaschkas were doing; they were making something that looked exactly like the real thing, for study purposes.
See? Just looks like a cactus. A real pretty one, with a flower. The card in front of it tells you it’s an Echinocereus engelmannii modeled on a specimen collected in Tempe, Arizona in June.
An advantage of working in glass (as opposed to working in, uh, plants) is that you can magnify the specimens. A lot of the plants were shown with blown-up sexual organs:
Other than the magnifications, they just look like plants in cases. If you don’t know they’re made of glass, it’s not a very impressive room. But if you do know? Wow!
For all my Museum Tourist posts, click here.
photos: me. allllll me.