Marvel at the exotic and the microscopic at the Natural History Museum at Tring

Fragaria sp., strawberry
A Strawberry

Marvel at the exotic and the microscopic at Blooming Marvellous – 24 May to 18 August 2013, at the Natural History Museum at Tring

From ferns to mosses, pollen to seeds, the Natural History Museum looks after six million plant specimens from all around the world. But the collections don’t stop there, they also include an extensive holding of botanical art. Some of these watercolours, pen sketches and drawings date back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when they were created for scientific study rather than for decoration.

Botanical artists were often recruited to accompany early scientific expeditions, recording species never before seen in Europe. Some worked as merchants, teachers or doctors throughout the British Empire, recording, drawing and painting specimens in their spare time. Still others worked closer to home recording the botanical riches of Britain.

Find out about some of the most eminent and prolific botanical illustrators and see their stunning works of art up close.

  • Sydney Parkinson – accompanied Captain Cook to the South Pacific and produced 1,000 drawings of plants on the voyage. He didn’t survive the journey but his work was so important that Sir Joseph Banks gave orders for the illustrations to be copied and engraved after the ship’s return.
  • Georg Dionysius Ehret – inspired by Linnaeus’s new system of classification, he developed a style of illustration that showed the parts of the flower separately and in greater detail. This made it easier for scientists to study plants and his style has been copied by illustrators ever since.
  • Franz Bauer – the first paid botanical artist at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, he is still regarded as one of the most technically sophisticated botanical artists of all time.
  • Arthur Harry Church – developed a new style of illustration, influenced by the decorative Art Nouveau movement, to reveal the intricate internal structures of flowers.
Illustration by Arthur Church
Watercolour by Arthur Harry Church

Anna Griffiths, Interpretation Developer at the Natural History Museum at Tring says, ‘From the earliest drawings of specimens from the voyages of discovery to the latest microscope scans, visual records are an important element of scientific study. Blooming Marvellous reveals how scientists have interpreted, understood and explained the natural world through art and images across nearly 400 years.’

Botanical illustration was an important tool for studying plants right up until the twenty-first century. Today, many scientists rely on new types of technology, such as scanning electron microscopes that can magnify specimens up to 250,000 times. These technological developments allow scientists to explore far beyond the reaches of the human eye, helping us to appreciate the scientific value and beauty of plants in an entirely new way.

  • Address: The Natural History Museum at Tring, The Walter Rothschild Building, Akeman Street, Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 6AP
  • Admission: Free
  • Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00–17.00, Sunday 14.00–17.00
  • Access: There is lift access throughout the public areas of the Museum.
  • Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 6171
  • Website: 


  • The Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire opened in the late 1800s to house the collections of Lionel Walter, second Baron Rothschild, and offers some outstanding examples of nineteenth-century taxidermy. The Museum was bequeathed to the nation and became part of the Natural History Museum in 1938. The public galleries were modernised but the fascinating character of the Museum has been retained.
  • More than 150,000 visitors a year enjoy a glimpse into the fascinating world of a Victorian collector, where they can see a huge variety of wild, weird and wonderful specimens from across the animal kingdom – from armadillos to zebras.
  • The site at Tring also houses the stunning Rothschild Library and the Natural History Museum’s ornithological collection, which has been based there since the early 1970s. Access to the Rothschild Library and ornithological collection is limited and by appointment only.
Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771)
Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771)

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