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Botanical stamps and a physic garden

BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1

In the lobby of the headquarters of the British Medical Association at Tavistock Square, London WC1, there is a display of postage stamps depicting medicinal plants. The medicinal plant stamps comprise the first of a planned series of displays on the theme of medical botany. Housed in two glass-topped cases, the display has a very attractive appearance, each set of stamps being accompanied by explanatory text giving the botanical names, active constituents and pharmacology of the plants depicted.
Affixed to the wall above is a map of the world on Mercator’s projection. The continents are decorated with tiny vignettes illustrating 32 medicinal plants in their appropriate locations. This is flanked by enlarged panels of each of these plants accompanied by a descriptive text. Dr William Evans, author of Trease and Evans’s ?Pharmacognosy’, provided the BMA with invaluable advice and assistance with the preparation of the world map of medical botany.
I was there one day in March, the guest of Dr Jim Dunlop. Miss Patricia Langley, who began the work three years ago on the physic plant project with Dr Mac Armstrong and Ms Daniela Sikora, the gardener, explained to me that the nearby lift to the three floors above us was deplorably slow. Her attractive display became a focus of interest to numbers of persons while they were wating for the lift’s laborious descent.
Miss Langley also allowed me to see and handle one of the association’s treasures: the three volumes and supplement of Dr William Woodville’s famous book ?Medical botany’, published between 1790 and 1794. The work is illustrated throughout with beautiful coloured plates, and framed reproductions of many of the plates decorated the walls of the staircase to the floors above. On one landing there was the portrait of the wise, benevolent doctor himself.
On the occasion of my visit, I was privileged when Miss Langley took me on a conducted tour of the council garden at the rear of the premises. Some plants have been selected from ?Medical botany’; others have been chosen for their appearance and suitability to the garden and also to illustrate the continuing relevance of botany to modern medical practice. This has resulted in a sizeable physic collection which is a considerable asset to the BMA, providing a focus of interest for visitors, members and staff.
In early March, the garden appeared very green with few plants in flower. As we wandered from bed to bed, my guide revealed an encyclopaedic knowledge of her subject, proudly exhibiting some plants of mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) which were in their second year. In London, it was very difficult, she told me, to cultivate Arnica montana (perhaps because its normal habitat is mountain pastures). The centrepiece of the garden was a spacious pond, where she proposed to cultivate a selection of aquatic physic plants.
If you are fortunate, as I was, to visit BMA House, be sure to study the attractive displays and spend 10 minutes wandering around the council garden.

Reviewer - Tom Wilson is editor of Philatelic Quill and lives in Ashford, Kent. He was a pharmacist for 60 years and retired from the register in 1997.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20002000

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