Autumn workshop 1986: Reading University

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1 November 1986 - 2 November 1986

Workshop report

Twelve participants, including one from Sweden and another from West Germany, gathered in the Botany Department of Reading University for the society’s annual workshop which this year was on cultivation techniques. Early arrivals browsed through the selection of relevant papers and books, which were available throughout the weekend.

After welcoming us and explaining the programme for the weekend, Dr Royce Longton began with an introduction to culture media recipes. This was followed by an instructive tour of the University’s media kitchen by its senior technician, Mr Brian Render. He explained how culture media are made whilst showing us the impressive university facilities; however, he was at pains to explain alternative equipment that could be used by anyone without such facilities, such as a domestic pressure cooker instead of an autoclave for sterilising media. A demonstration on the aseptic pouring of plates and their inoculation with spores was followed by an opportunity to try for ourselves.

In the afternoon Dr Harold Whitehouse discussed the uses and advantages of culturing bryophytes on agar-slopes in sealed test tubes. He had brought a selection of his cultures, derived from various organs, for us to examine. After demonstrating his technique for sterilising plant parts, we tried our hands at inoculating plates and agar slopes with plant pieces.

Sunday morning began with a brief demonstration of liquid-cultures during which Royce explained their advantage for following changes in dry weight. The potential of axenic cultures for investigations was demonstrated by a range of floristic problems at present being investigated at Reading. These included the morphological variation between a Reading and an Antarctic population of Bryum argenteum; the influence of bacteria on the growth of Bryum antarcticum; genecological differentiation in Polytrichum alpestre; and, most intriguing of all, a protonema from Antarctica which refuses to produce gametophores!

Most of Sunday, however, was devoted to the art of Mr Michael Fletcher, who introduced his contribution by explaining that he “does not cultivate bryophytes. I grow mosses!” And so we turned from the techniques of the research worker to the horticultural techniques of the plant enthusiast. Michael’s enthusiasm for his hobby and his expertise were immediately obvious as he demonstrated how he sets up appropriate substrates in 3″ flower pots by imitating, as far as possible, the known ecological requirements of species. Planting is simplicity itself – merely press onto the surface of the substrate two or three stems, or a small portion of thallus! Epiphytes are glued with UHU glue (experience shows that it has no adverse effect on the plants) onto pieces of expanded polystyrene tile which are then propped up in a flower pot! The importance of watering by overhead spraying was explained. Afterwards we were invited to “have a go” ourselves, Michael generously providing a selection of previously requested species from his own collection for us to plant. Probably the highlight of the weekend was a visit to Michael’s “Mossoleum”, a collection of about 1500 cultures, housed in his new l0ft x 8ft greenhouse. Most of the bryophytes are British, but his collection also includes a number from New Zealand and several from many other countries, especially Florida and South India. Michael explained how temperature, light and humidity gradients are obtained by simple, inexpensive, reflective shading made from aluminium-coated polythene, as made for mountaineers’ “survival blankets”, and by judicial pruning of surrounding, but incidental, trees!

Meal-times during the weekend were carefully researched by Royce and Michael to be gastronomic events! A brisk stroll across the University grounds into suburbia beyond, brought us to our Saturday pub lunch of home-cooked, on-the-whole English style dishes. The welcome was warm: even a table had been prepared for us. Chatting over our meal quickly dispelled the awkward shyness of the morning. Saturday evening dinner was taken at a local Pizzeria, two of us making sure we would be unpopular the next day by having garlic bread whilst the rest of the company enjoyed more conventional starters. Sunday lunch was taken at a riverside public house. This was a very useful workshop, providing, I am sure, something for everyone. The hands-on experience was most welcome. On behalf of the participants I should like to thank Royce Longton for organising it and for his contribution, and also Harold Whitehouse, Michael Fletcher and Brian Render for their contributions. For myself I should like to thank all participants, st udents and contributors, for their enjoyable company.

Jennifer Ide


Reading University