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Darwin’s garden: an evolutionary adventure

The New York Botanical Garden opens a new exhibition on Darwin’s work with plants on 25 April until mid-June.

Planting inspiration

Darwin is better known for his interest in beetles and barnacles, but he was so struck by the flowers on the Galapagos Islands that he collected ‘all the plants in flower’.

Later in his life, he conducted many simple and elegant experiments on plants at Down House. He soaked seeds in salt water to find out if they would still germinate after drifting across oceans and grew seedlings through the hole in a peg to test the strength of their roots in pushing the peg apart.

Man orchid, Aceras anthropophorum

Man orchid, Aceras anthropophorum, in the meadow next to Down House.

Darwin also published six books on plants, on subjects as diverse as the fertilisation of orchids, the movements of climbing plants and insectivorous plants.

The exhibition, curated by Darwin expert David Kohn, will display stunning botanical prints in the Mertz Library alongside some of Darwin’s original writings, notebooks and plant collections.

Tree of life

A self-guided walking tour will be on offer, accessible through mobile phones, around the conservatory and gardens. The guide will highlight plants on the evolutionary tree of life from primitive algae, mosses and fern to the great diversity of flowering plants today.

For children, there will be activities such as potting up a plant and creating a herbarium specimen in the Children’s Adventure Garden. There will also be a replica of the Beagle ship and a timeline of Darwin’s life.


‘There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin