The Plant Family Tree

A Rare Glimpse Inside the Labyrinthine Archive of London’s Royal Botanical Gardens

The Herbarium at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew is a vast, Victorian maze filled with arcane books, learned scientists, and cabinet after cabinet of cataloged plants. Taking visual cues from the alluring intricacies of a Wes Anderson movie, this elegant short, “The Plant Family Tree,” is the fifth in the series Beyond the Gardens, created by the London-based studio, Lonelyleap. Coinciding with this summer’s IncrEdibles festival that runs through September, the series was designed to expose Kew’s rarely seen research aspect, and uncovers a haven from the hubbub of tourists outside. It tells the story of an institution that has played an integral role in the discovery of new species since it opened in 1853, with seven million specimens held in its many wings. “It’s a fantastic place because of all the history associated with the discovery of immensely diverse plants in the tropics,” enthuses Mark Chase, the film’s narrator and one of most prominent scientists to have worked at the gardens, currently serving as Director of Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory. “It helps us understand both the diversity of things we’ve got out there and what we have to do to preserve it.”

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  • gpsabino
    Amazing video! Congratulations!

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    The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

    In the World's Northernmost Town, Crops Get Eternal Life

    In the Svalbard archipelago, over 600 miles north of Norway, the sun doesn’t set between April and August. From October until February, on the other hand, it doesn’t appear at all. As one of the closest landmasses to the North Pole, it may seem an inhospitable climate for all but the most resilient of miners or fishermen. Near the northerly town of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen, however, the agricultural equivalent of Noah’s Ark is nestled in the side of a snow-covered mountain. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault––photographed here exclusively for NOWNESS by Greg White––was established in 2008 with the intention of preserving diversity in crops from around the world. Although many countries have their own gene banks, they are not insusceptible to disaster: national seed banks in Afghanistan and Pakistan have succumbed to looting, while in the Philippines a vault was destroyed by a typhoon. In light of this, in 2004 a call was made by the Global Crop Diversity Trust to house a complete collection of seeds from around the world in a centralized stable environment. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was the result, with the archipelago chosen in part due to the permafrost that would safeguard against any electrical failures in the cooling device (seeds are chilled to -18C). With a goal of storing the roughly three million unique seed samples in gene banks worldwide (the bean alone has around 30,000 varieties; wheat has about 200,000), the vault has already accrued half a million varieties of crops. But as Professor Roland von Bothmer, the manager of these deposits, says with a chuckle: “Nothing is ever complete in this world!”
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    Lily Cole: Wild Rubber

    The Model-Turned-Polymath Takes Us Deep Into the Brazilian Amazon

    A region in peril is distilled on 8mm film in Wild Rubber, directed by the multi-talented Lily Cole. The flame-haired model made the short while on assignment in Acre, northwest Brazil as an ambassador for Sky Rainforest Rescue, a partnership between Sky and WWF that raises awareness of the jungle’s plight, and aims to help protect one billion trees in the area. Cole, who has successfully melted the divide between the worlds of fashion, art, film and literature, shot the film across a day-lit Amazon vista after spending time with a rubber-tapping community in Feijó, where she learned more about the practice she believes is key to curbing deforestation. The hazy sepia and cyan-toned video depicts bird flocks, rainbow-hued spiders and nymph-like forms diving into the river’s purple wash. It is relatable, youthful, and eerie—particularly when overlaid with Cole’s soft British-accented singing. “Early one morning, I took a few hours out to go into the forest alone to film, and make a sound recording on my iPhone,” she says. “I only had two rolls left, so every shot felt incredibly precious.”

    Aesthetically, the film has an old-school look. How did you select this format?
    Lily Cole: I had been meaning to buy a non-digital camera last year in Paris, when I happened to run into Tacita Dean—a friend and one of my favourite artists who campaigns for film to be valued and protected as a medium. She took me shopping for a camera and we found this 8mm in one of the last camera shops in Paris to still sell it. I took it with me to Brazil and, without time to construct a set narrative, I simply captured moments as we explored the area, shooting whatever drew my eye. 

    What are your hopes for the future of rainforest conversation?
    LC: I hope a growing market can be created for forest products, such as wild rubber, as it essentially could protect the rainforest by making it worth more standing than cut down. Knowing she is passionate about the rainforest, I asked Vivienne Westwood if she would be able to make a dress using rubber for this year’s Met Ball to show its potential versatility, and she and her partner Andreas made something very special for me to wear. This isn’t for a consumer audience but who knows what we can do in time.

    What is the most memorable thing to have occurred during your time in Brazil?
    The rubber tapping itself was very impactful. Cutting thick lines into bark to watch a latex material bubble up was very surreal and filled my mind with possibilities. Rubber seems like such a synthetic material so it is really surprising to see that it is produced by a tree.

    Has deforestation been curbed at all?
    LC: Yes! Last year it was reported that deforestation rates were declining. Paraguay reduced the rate in their country by 85% following the enactment of its 2004 Zero Deforestation Law. It doesn’t mean the issues are fully resolved but I feel very optimistic that we are heading in that direction.

    Why is this cause important to you?
    LC: About 20% of the planet’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest so it's definitely something to value. Well, if you appreciate air. 

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