After months of planning, a highlight of the Reading Botany year arrived and the Reunion Party took place on Saturday 27 July in the aptly named Meadow Suite at the University of Reading.

The organising committee were delighted to welcome over 150 botanical alumni comprising past and present staff, technicians, BSc, MSc and Phd students for what was always going to be a wonderfully happy occasion with opportunities to meet up with old friends and colleagues after, in some cases, many decades apart.

A rough calculation indicates that we had the following representation from the last 6 decades of Reading botany students:

Period Dates # Attendees
Pre-MSc Pre -1969 5
First decade 1969-1978 30
Second decade 1979-1988 28
Third decade 1989-1998 20
Fourth decade 1999-2008 26
Fifth decade 2009-2018 25

Reading Botanists attending the reunion were asked to complete a questionnaire to help us gather data on Reading botany alumni and their career pathways to inform our symposium on the state of botany and plant science teaching (8th November).  If you attended but didn’t get around to completing this, or if you could not attend and would like to help us with this, please follow the link here 

After a welcome address from Dr Alastair Culham Reading Botanists had a chance to meet up with old friends and colleagues and then lunch was served and, despite light rain earlier in the day, many sat out on the veranda in the comfortable summer temperatures and overlooking the Whiteknights meadows with its wild flowers including Silaum silaus, Sanguisorba officinalis and Centaurea nigra.

Dr Mike Maunder in the video booth

After lunch, tours of the RNG herbarium and the Harris Garden commenced while other attendees were able to continue their reminiscences and also were encouraged to drop by our video booth and make a video cameo giving details of their time at Reading, what they are doing now and their abiding memories of botany at Reading.

The room tables were decorated with some lovely plants especially grown by Dr Alastair Culham and from here attendees were able to view spooled slide shows of images from the early days of the MSc to the present day.  There were opportunities to peruse presentations set up around the room including memorabilia of Reading botany over the decades, some light-hearted publications such as “Not the Herbarium News” and a display of the ongoing Reading Botany 2019 anniversary events. Our especially designed merchandise including Reading Botany mugs, bags and Whiteknights Cedar ale was on sale.

After the final tours had returned, the highlight of the afternoon was an address from the founding father of the Reading botany MSc Professor Vernon Heywood.

Vernon’s speech highlighted the history of botany at Reading and pointed out that this started long before the MSc with the first professor of botany being appointed in 1922!  He went on to provided a summary of the many achievements during his time at Reading and ended by highlighting the lack of emphasis and interest in plants and botany in schools, universities and government and a powerful and heart-felt call to botanical arms:

“As we continue to put biodiversity through the mincer for financial gain without heed of the consequences, it is all the more necessary that we continue to train broadly-based botanists plant scientists not only to undertake the urgent research needed to allow us to adapt out economy to the challenges of global extinction crisis and climate change, but to inform policy makers and the public of the real nature of the issues and the key role that plants play.”

Following Vernon Heywood’s speech, Professor Julie Hawkins responded with an analysis of the problems faced by the botanical community with the “leaky botanical pipeline” and how we will address some of these issues in our symposium on plant teaching in secondary schools later in the year.  She then provided a summary of current botanical activity at Reading including strong PhD training, emphasis natural history at MSc level (e.g. the new programme in Species Identification and Survey Skills), the plans for enhanced botanical teaching at BSc level and our commitment to botanical outreach activities with local schools and the general public.

As one Reading Botanist said afterwards: “It is important to focus on the future as well as celebrating the past. Julie Hawkins lifted our spirits – botanists do have the answers (should that be anthers?) to so many of the great challenges we are now confronting.”

After the speeches all went outside onto the lawn for a group photo and an opportunity for individual group photos to be taken.  This ended the formal proceedings of the day and we said farewell to some people who had to return to their homes while others stayed on for further socialising and to take part in a special Reading Botany 2019 botanical quiz curated by Dr M.  The quiz featured rounds on Reading botany past and present including a look at previous exam papers, some plant families including Dr M’s favourite plant family the Poaceae and a plant themed music round.

The event wrapped up at around 11.30 pm when Alastair Culham retrieved his plants and was later seen to tweet:

Late-night plant collecting duties!

“Midnight & I suspect I’m the only person in Reading driving around with Amorphophallus, Strobilanthes, Pelargonium, Utricularia, Coffea, Nepenthes, Elettaria, Streptocarpus, Capsicum, Catharanthus, Coleus, Ceropegia, Tradescantia & Helianthus in the back of the car.”  We can only agree!

Following the event, the organising committee will set to work providing access to the image bank of historic photos as well as those taken on the day by our official photographer as well as videos of the speeches and video cameos made by attendees.  Further, a special edition of “Herbarium News” will be produced and circulate to attendees which will include an account of the reunion – watch this space!

Professor Vernon  Heywood described the reunion as “…a truly remarkable occasion and I was delighted to have been able to participate”.

We are receiving other warm feedback from attendees and a few further quotes are given below:

“48 years after graduating, I was also able to get Vernon Heywood to sign his 1963 book “Principles of Angiosperm Taxonomy”, so it was worth coming for that!”

“You must be so very proud of organising such a magnificent event.  I got to talk to so many of friends and faces, it certainly will live long in the memory.”

“Vernon Heywood, the Godfather of Reading Botany – a continuing source of inspiration to me and so many others. It was very moving to be in the audience with so many brilliant botanists. Well done! Looking forward to the next one!”

“…thank you all for organising the reunion and celebration of Reading botany on Saturday. It was an absolutely fantastic day. I met up with people I hadn’t seen since graduating in 1991 as well as having the chance to catch up with many of the Reading mafiosi who I have come to know since.”

“2022 is 120 years since the first Professor of Botany was appointed. Is that in the diary for the next one??”

“Many thanks for organising such fun reunion party. We all had a fab time.”

“Thank you for organising a Wonderful Botany Reunion yesterday.  It was like coming home.”

The committee would like to thank the Reading Alumni office and Venue Reading for their help organising this event and also our team of intrepid botany volunteers who helped prepare, set up the room and run the event.

Photo credits:  Featured image of the Group Photo and Reading Botany Teachers (below) by Laura Bennetto, Vernon Heywood’s address by Steve Blackmore, others by Dr M

Check here for the official photos of the day by Bennetto Photography

Guinness Book of Botany Records: Five decades of Reading Botany Teachers!

Check out the video highlights here: