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Current Maughan Library exhibition

Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

The Weston Room
Maughan LibraryImage of a juniper bush from: American medical botany (vol. 3) by Jacob Bigelow
Chancery Lane
London WC2A 1LR

Wednesday 15 October - Saturday 13 December 2014

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 09.30 - 17.00
Saturday 10.00 - 18.00

From a paradise of pleasant flowers I am fallen (Adam like) to a world of profitable herbes and plants.

So wrote the herbalist John Parkinson in the opening chapter of his monumental work of 1640, Theatrum botanicum, and in this exhibition we explore that world of ‘profitable herbes and plants’ in all its manifestations. 

Throughout history mankind has turned to plants for their healing powers, and we look at the gradual superseding of herbals, such as those of Gerard and Parkinson, which embodied the folk medicine of medieval and early modern Europe, by later medical advances, such as William Withering’s discovery of the therapeutic properties of foxglove leaves as a treatment for heart disease.

The expansion of Europe’s imperial and commercial horizons following the age of discovery not only transformed botanical knowledge by revealing a wealth of hitherto unknown species but ushered in an age of expansionist and competitive trade in those plants that were to become an integral part of Europe’s daily life: coffee, cocoa, tea, sugar cane, cotton and rubber, among others. We look at these products, at society’s attitudes towards them and at the transition to mass production that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Plants feed us, clothe us, heal us and go towards the making of many of the products which surround us in our homes and cities, but they also fascinate and inspire us by the colours, structure and texture which give them beauty. Although most of the books in this exhibition are primarily concerned with the practical uses to which plants can be put, they also demonstrate through their illustrations how botanical artists have sought over the centuries to convey that beauty on the page.

All items in this exhibition are from the collections of the Foyle Special Collections Library, King’s College London.

Image of an opium flower from: Medical botany (vol. 3) by John Stephenson and James Morss Churchill

Admission and access

Access to the exhibition is free. On arrival at the Maughan Library, please follow the signs to the Weston Room. Please note that visitors who are not registered members of the Maughan Library are required to complete an exhibition ticket on arrival at the Library. The exhibition ticket is available to print below, as is a guide to the exhibition. Copies of the guide are also available to pick up in the Weston Room. 

Exhibition closure

The exhibition will be closed to visitors on the following dates:

  • Tuesday 2 December
  • Thursday 4 December 
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