Inverness Botanics

From our correspondent …

In Highland Region, at latitude 57.46 N, in a cool temperate climate, lies Inverness Botanic Gardens [1]. It combines in its small space, education and community growing with displays of local and exotic plants …. and a cafe .. CafeBotanics. It lies on the west side of the River Ness, just south of the town centre and close to the new southern ring road.

Pass through the cafe, enter the glasshouses and marvel at the collection of tropical plants. Follow the signs along a path to the community hub – the G.R.O.W project – which practices horticultural therapy. There’s grass to play on, a collection of herbs and vegetables and an outdoor insect-house. 

Two cactus plants: details of Cleistocactus strausii (left) and Echinocactus grusonii at Inverness Botanic Gardens. mid-October 2022 (

The garden was opened in 1993 and revamped in 2014 [2]. It’s now open to the public every day each week, admission free, donations welcome.

The Living Field appreciates the blend of education, outreach and botany. But first – and especially for those who haven’t yet visited the region – some notes on the local climate. Is it warm and sunny enough for a tropical glasshouse?

The Climate (outside)

57N has a reputation in the UK – cold and gloomy, cloud and wet! Not at all! Weather is relative – it depends what you are used to and what you mean by gloomy …. and wet. From spring to autumn, there’s plenty of solar income, warming the ground and giving plants the energy to grow, and providing what is, by many standards, very good growing potential.

Fig. 1 Map from Assessment of the Climatic Conditions of Scotland produced 1969 by the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research, now the James Hutton Institute [3]. The white arrow in the lower selection points to Inverness. The red zone is the warmest.

Good growing conditions? Yes, providing there is enough rain to wet the soil but not drown it (which there is) and the soil and air are warm enough to allow plants to thrive and survive (which they are). 

The average air temperature in the main summer months is usually 13-14C. The average daily minimum in winter months is just above zero. And while temperature usually falls below zero on several days each winter, there is rarely the prolonged, deep cold of winter farther inland. In the map in Fig. 1, Inverness Botanics lies within the warmest climatic zone – the dark red and yellow areas that fringe the eastern coast.

Details of a fan palm and a north american pitcher plant, lower images in reverse to show structural detail, at Inverness Botanic Garden, mid-October 2022 (

The equable climate is determined mainly by a high solar income over the summer months and proximity to the nearby firth and sea which moderate temperature so it is rarely too cold or too hot.

The graph of daily solar radiation received at the earth’s surface in 2021 (Fig. 2) shows the summer peak and winter low, but also the great day to day variation caused by cloud. The average around the winter solstice in December was about one-tenth of that around the summer solstice in June.

Fig. 2 Daily solar radiation received at the earth’s surface, at Kinloss near Inverness, from 1 January to 31 December 2021, vertical lines at the summer (red) and winter solstice (blue) [4].

The annual solar variation is linked to both the change in daylength (Fig. 3) and the low elevation of the winter sun. It’s the winter low in Fig. 1 that would make for very cold temperatures in December to February at this latitude if the place was in the middle of continental Europe rather than by the sea.

Fig. 3 Change in daylength through the year from 1 January to 31 December at Inverness, 57.46 N, vertical lines as in Fig. 1, horizontal dashed line drawn at the equinox, hours of daylength at summer and winter solstice indicated [4].

But can the area support tropical rainforest?  Not quite (not yet!), but Inverness Botanics lets you feel what it might be like. 

In the cactus house, Inverness Botanic Gardens, taken late July 2022 (gkimages).

The Glasshouses

Inverness Botanics houses a diversity of tropical and sub-tropical plants, all viewable from short walkways, some elevated so you can look down at the tops of small palms and plantains. Rock piles, stone walls and big mirrors partition the space making it feel secluded and personal. A few seats and benches give people a chance for quiet contemplation, immersed in the tropical warmth. 

The moist tropical section also has several types of epiphyte – plants that grow on on other plants, but are not parasitic, instead taking nutrients from the water falling on them and their host. Tillandsia usneoides, from south and central America, is one of them, forming a hanging mass of stems bearing short thin leaves. It was good to loiter here – brought back memories of tropical rain forest. 

Past a bench of pitcher plants and into the cactus house, displaying a stunning range of shape – tall, thin and hairy, round and prickly. You can’t miss Cleistocactus straussii, native to high mountainous regions in Bolivia and Argentina. A note next to the plants says it can withstand temperature down to 10C, and survives the winter with little water. (Couldn’t live in the Highlands then!) Near to it are the prickly orbs of Echinocactus grusonii, from Mexico. 

Go out of the glass, find the path and follow the signs to …..

The GROW Project

The Garden’s web pages explain: “…. an opportunity for practical horticulture for adults with a learning disability. GROW stands for Garden-Recycle-Organics-Wildlife …. The GROW Project provides a sympathetic workplace-type environment that uses horticulture therapy to deliver training and work experience ..…”.

This part of the garden was well occupied on the day of our visit in mid-October, families wandering, children looking at things – an easy relaxed atmosphere .The flowering season was over for most species but earlier in the year: “… you will find fruit trees, vegetable plots, wild flowers, bulbs, herb beds, a bug hotel to encourage insect life, and much, much more. For children the wooden bears at the tee pee and Jungle Path are looking forward to welcoming you!”

Tree fern, insect residences, stack of cross cut tree trunk and fish pond, the first and last under the glass, at Inverness Botanics, December 2022 (

G.R.O.W. has won formal support from public and private funds, including over £20k in 2021 from the Inverness Common Good Fund to buy around 50 m of raised beds to give people a comfortable working height [5]. The food produced by G.R.O.W is sold on site or else donated to Inverness Foodstuff [6].


Here’s an extract from the Garden’s web pages …

“Our volunteers play a vital part in many aspects of the smooth running of the Gardens. Over the last few years they have spent many hours on the various tasks to assist our gardeners. Inside and outside they help with many horticultural tasks and maintaining our woodwork, paths and glasshouses.”

Follow the links below for more information about becoming a volunteer.

The blog from Marr Communications gives  more on the history, activity and aspirations of G.R.O.W and the Botanics [7].

The hanging threads of the epiphyte Tillandsia usneoides consist of many short thin leaves on long stems (inset) taken late July 2022 (gk images).


[1] Inverness Botanic Gardens and Cafe Botanics at visitinverness and highlife highland. Quotes in the text are from these web links. The Garden also has a facebook page: search @invernessbotanicgardens

[2] On BBC News, 15 January 2014: Inverness floral hall to be branded as botanic gardens. And more information at Britain Express.

[3] Birse and colleagues, working from Aberdeen in the 1960s, produced three stunning maps of the climate in Scotland: Birse EL. 1971. Assessment of the climatic conditions of Scotland. Soil Survey of Scotland: Macaulay Institute for Soil Research, Aberdeen (now the James Hutton Institute). The first of the maps – on temperature and rainfall – is used here to indicate the relatively mild climate of Inverness compared to much of the surrounding land.

[4] Sources of data: for solar radiation, location Kinloss – Centre for Environmental Data Analysis CEDA; for daylength, location Inverness – Time and Date. Graphs constructed by The Living Field web has several articles on solar radiation and climate, e.g. Solar income.

[5] The Highland Council, 15 December 2021: Huge donations to help project GROW – describes what will be done with funds from the Inverness Common Good Fund and HSBC Bank.

[6] Inverness Foodstuff at Ness Bank Church.

[7] Marr Communications: Growing more than just plants.

Ed: thanks to our correspondent for their note on Inverness Botanics and photos taken during visits in July, October and December 2022, examples of which we use on this page

[Update: some minor editing and rearrangement of figures on 24 December 2022]

Where art meets science: Singapore

Note on a visit to the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. TeamLab’s mesmerising exhibition halls. Stunning architecture.  Lily pond.

The ticket desk warned adults that about 60% of the exhibits were for children. There was no need.  The exhibition spaces were mesmerising, children and adults alike absorbed in the shifting images and games.

It was like one of those busy open days at the Living Field garden: people marvelling at the diversity of life,  children quietly buzzing around the activities and all coming to appreciate that people and nature can coexist.

Concept and design of the building

The main exhibition halls were below ground, underneath the ‘palm’ and ‘fingers’ that are the visible part of the structure. The ‘palm’ appears supported only near the base. A lacing of struts extends throughout the  fingers.

The concept of the quite stunning building was explored in early sketches by Safdie Architects, viewable in the foyer [2]. One of the sketches is shown above left.

teamLab and Future World

The main permanent displays, given the name ‘Future World – where Art meets Science‘ are housed in the below-ground chambers.  They were made by teamLab,  founded in 2001 and comprising a group of ‘ultra-technologists’, bringing together ‘hundreds of innovative thought leaders from multiple technical and creative backgrounds’.

In first exhibition – Nature – people interact with the various streams of images projected onto, or rather part of, the walls and floor.

Photo of the exhibition panel. Click on the image to see a larger readable copy.

‘Water’ streams down the far wall and along the floor. The flow is deflected if a person moves close to the wall or stands on the floor. Butterflies emerge and flap round the walls. They disappear if touched. Incessant, low volume, musical sounds accompany the movements. You’d think they would soon grate, but they didn’t, even after an hour of wandering in the space.

The descriptive panels explain the purpose: people affect nature all the time; they are part of it, not distinct from it. They can destroy it but need it.

The photographs shown in the panel above – all from Nature –  are phone snaps taken in the available light. Excellent images of the exhibits can be viewed on teamLab’s web site [2].

Next on from the Nature exhibit are a series of rooms where visitors can move things around, sit at desks writing and making things, interact with moving images and (for the very young) play with brightly coloured balls. Crocodiles crawl across the floor. They know you’re there!

Leaving the darkened halls, the visitor emerges into  the central shaft, a great space with a pond at the bottom and open to the sun and rain at the top, connecting inside to outside.

Outside the Museum – the lily pond

Immediately beneath the ‘palm’ on three sides is a pond whose surface is almost covered with lily leaves. The pond is raised above the surrounding walkways, so that people can kneel on the bounding wall and peer into the water.  The pond lies above the underground display halls and is said to filter light down through their ceilings.

The pond extends some way out towards the Bay. The cluster of tall buildings at the city’s financial sector can appear as if they are on a level with the pond.

To the right of the financial sector, directly by the Bay but too small to see from here, is the Merlion that continually spouts its stream of water (top panel, upper-right).

As in most other parts of Singapore’s centre, the standard of plant-culture is very high. The lily pond is made to look like it takes care of itself, but there must be a continual pruning and removal of dead material and maintenance of an ideal nutrient balance in the water.

Did Art meet Science?

In the Living Field’s work with artists, the starting point is usually some topic of environmental or agricultural science – field systems, population dynamics, the structure and functioning of roots, plant metabolites and so on. The artist bends scientific knowledge and sometimes the scientific process, bringing together things that could not possibly coexist or would at least be normally far apart in time or distance.

A similar process underpins the construction of the Future World exhibitions. They do this to a degree subliminally, through the senses. It’s the impressions that last, rather than anything strictly logical. There’s more on one of the exhibits at the next post Real time virtual field –  Tashbunosho rice.

The Museum is well supported by Singaporeans. Like the V&A Museum in Dundee, it must be a source of great local pride.

Sources, references, links

What’s On!

[1] ArtScience Museum at Singapore – general information, ‘what’s on’, etc.

[2] Designed by Moshe Safdie – link to the ArtScience Museum at Safdie Architects.

[3] teamLab – perhaps start with  See also interviews and comment at Indesignlive, e.g. 5 minutes with teamLab and coverage of their Tokyo exhibits at New Digital Art Museum in Tokyo.

[4] Future World – where art meets science – link to see more on this permanent exhibition at the ArtScience Museum Singapore.

Author/contact: /, visited October 2018

Maize husk for art paper and cheroot wrapping

Maize, along with rice and wheat, and to a lesser degree barley, provides most of the cereal or corn harvest for the world’s civilisations. Maize was domesticated in the Americas and did not arrive here until recent centuries, when ships and navigation were advanced enough to sail across an ocean.

Maize is a warm-climate crop [1] but consists of many varieties, some of which can be grown here in summer, where it’s product is known as corn-on-the-cob or sweet corn. It is also grown  in stock farming as an animal feed, but mainly in the south of the UK.

Yet maize has many other uses. Here we look at two of them, both starting with the husk surrounding and protecting the cob – Jean Duncan’s exploration of paper-making using husks from maize grown in the Living Field garden, and the traditional use of maize husk as wrapping for Burmese cheroots.

Print of maize root on maize husk paper

For making plant paper, Jean tried various parts of the maize plants including the leaves, the thick stems and also the papery coverings of the flowering and fruiting head, known as the husk, which she said made the best paper [2].

The images above are of a print on maize husk paper of an etching of a maize root cut in cross section and magnified so that the internal structure can be seen.

In the print on the left hand side of the images, the original root cross section is about 1 mm wide, the image itself is 22 by 22 cm and the paper 40 by 49 cm. To the right are close-ups of part of the print and of the paper, showing the visible fibres from the original husks, now converted into paper.

The paper in this case became a visible part of the finished art. Sources below give links to Jean’s description of making the paper and an exhibition in which images of roots were printed on various plant-based papers [2].

Burmese cheroot wrapping

Once it was brought across from the Americas, maize travelled quickly in the 1600 and 1700s and became a favoured cereal through Africa and among the warmer parts of Europe. It established also in Asia, but usually as a secondary crop behind rice.

Its parts were used not only for food for humans and animals. There is a history of usage as a medicinal, as a substate for alcohol (e.g. chibuku in Africa) and curiously, as a wrapping for cheroots.

The long cigar shaped structures smoked in Burma (now Myanmar) and known as cheroots are usually filled with a range of herby and woody plant material, not always including tobacco. The wrapping can come from a range of plants, but the cigars below were wrapped in maize cob husks [3].

Several husk-leaves were used to wrap each cheroot. The contents were, as said above, derived from a range of plant material, most pieces being 2-4 mm long. Each cheroot had a filter, consisting of tight rolls of leaf or husk. They were on sale locally along the Irrawaddy River in Burma, now Myanmar [4].

In his compendium of useful plants, Burkhill [3] notes that an industry arose in north Burma at some time in the last few hundred years, based on the use of a type of maize, characterised by a waxy endosperm (the store in the seed), which also had a ‘peculiar suitability of the sheath for cheroots.’ He also refers to the possibility that certain impoverished areas were afflicted by the vitamin deficiency pellagra through reliance on maize, as in parts of the USA [5].

Male and female flower heads

Maize is unusual among the cereal or corn plants in having separate male and female flower heads, each on compact ‘branches’ held on different parts of the same plant. The male flowers are usually held at the top of the plant and the female lower down. Female branches are shown in the images below, taken in the Living Field garden.

The female flowering head remains mostly hidden within a sheath of leafy material (above left) that later forms the husk. The grain sites are arranged around the central ‘stem’ hidden by the sheath. The stem and grains together will later form what we know as the corn cob.

Each grain site puts out a long thread, many of which together emerge from the sheath in an irregular bunch, often named a silk, the female part of the reproductive process in this species (seen reddish, above left and top right).

The function of each female thread (comprising a stigma and style)  is to receive pollen from male flowers and to provide a channel for the pollen tube, that emerges from a pollen grain, to grow into the sheath to a grain site. When pollinated, the grain sites fill to give the familiar, yellow kernel which remains protected by the sheath.

Sometimes the season in the Garden is too short for late flowering maize heads and they do not grow into a finished, filled cob. One of these late heads was prized apart to show an undeveloped cob (lower right in the images above) and the surrounding sheath that had turned to parchment in feel and colour.  The female threads, now fibrous and dead, can just about be seen issuing from each grain site.

The paper shown in the images at the top of the page was made from husks like these.

Finally, here is an image of maize intercropped with groundnut growing by the Irrawaddy river [4]. The male branches can be seen at the top of some of the plants. Female flowering heads are circled.

Sources, references, links

[1] The botanical name for maize is Zea mays. The genus Zea is of the grass family and has only this species. It was domesticated and developed many thousands of years ago in Central and South America. It was first brought across the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1400s, then spread rapidly east.

[2] The article Maize paper by Jean Duncan describes how to make paper from plants in the garden. The exhibition The Beauty of Roots shows prints and etchings made on maize and other plant papers displayed at the University of Dundee in 2017.

[3] Details of the spread and growing of maize in Asia are given in the major compendium of useful south-east Asian plants by Burkill, published in 1966, but  clearly the result of many decades of investigation and cataloguing. He lists the use of maize husks for cheroot wrappings and of maize leaf and stem for paper.

Burkill IH. 1966. Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsular. Two volumes, 2444 pages. Published on behalf of the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore by the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The entry on maize is in Vol II at pages 2327-2334.

The writer refers to the following article for confirmation of the use of ‘waxy’ maize varieties as cheroot wrapping in Burma: Collins GN.1920. Waxy maize from upper Burma. Science 52, 48-51. doi 10.1126/science.52.1333.48.

[4] The cheroots shown in the images were bought at a village store in 2014 on the banks of the Irrawaddy. Further description of the region is given at  Mixed cropping in Burma on the curvedflatlands web site in an article by G R Squire.  Disclaimer – no cheroots were smoked in the research for this article!

[5] The Living Field we site has the following articles on maize and pellagra: Cornbread, peas and black molasses and Peanuts to pellagra.


Bangkok market

When in south east Asia ….

…. the defining sights, textures and tastes of the region must include the vegetables and fruits that are on sale everywhere and form such a nutritious and tasteful part of the diet. The humblest stalls and open-air cafes offer such a range of fresh plant products, boiled or fried, alone or with with rice or noodles, as are rarely found in Europe. Take kangkong – steeped in garlic and soy sauce, a low-cost pure vegetable delight with no equivalent here [1].

Stalls everywhere sell pineapple, mango, lychee, papaya. In the season, durians and mangosteens, rambutans, custard apples and jack fruit offer unique tastes and textures [2].

So a visit to the vegetable and fruit markets of Bangkok was not to be missed.

The main flower market sells fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables. Above are a great bank of flowering orchids, for show, not to eat, limes (? top right), pineapples and courgettes, roots including very large ‘radishes’, and leaf vegetables.

Most produce was bagged, or in the process of being, and taken away on bicycles, scooters and tuk-tuks, most likely on short supply chains to hotels, restaurants and cafes in the city. The bikes and scooters politely elbowed and wheeled their way through people.

 No small packets here – but great quantities of things: six-feet high banks of lemon grass (top left above), then ginger, chillies and spiny gourds.

In Europe we are used to seeing and eating the yellow-skinned banana fruits. But here also the banana’s unopened flowering heads were for sale [3], destined for gourmet cook-shops.

The produce covered the wide range of storage times found at good markets anywhere [4]. Everything from leafy greens and herbs, high in vitamins and minerals, needing to be cooked and eaten within days before they go off, contrasting with the roots and tubers which, like our potato and swede, can last for weeks, months even, sustaining people and animals over bad times. Of  the longer lasting vegetables were taro [5] and various sorts of pumpkin.

It was a busy place: many small traders, most everything visible. Food in, food out, quickly. Another world from the big retailers that most Europeans buy from.

Notes, links

[1] Kangkong or kangkung – is one of the simplest of dishes, made from the leafy shoots of various plants, the most common being Ipomoea aquatica.  Laced with garlic, mild chillies and soy sauce, a culinary delight, served at the humblest of roadside cook shops.

[2] Of these fruits, the Durian, is the king, they say. It’s of the genus Durio, of which there are many species. There’s little point in a European trying to describe a durian. They have to be experienced. But don’t just try any one that you come across. Durian experts say – select not the first of the season, and not the northernmost, but bide your time, smell each one discerningly, and lingeringly … and blessings will be yours.  A bit arcane, this durian lore – but from experience, it seems to work. And they do say that people go to extremes over the best wild durians, keeping them under guard night and day while fruiting, until they are just right. Also the other fruits mentioned may be palate-changing – mangosteens and custard apples, for example – and don’t be put off by the outer appearance of the jackfruit, because inside it’s ….. delicious.

[3] The fruits of the plantation banana are well known here, but the large flower buds  and flowers of assorted plantains including the commercial banana (all Musa species) are widely used in cooking in south-east Asia.

[4] Links on this web site to vegetable markets include 2 Veg to Pellagra (Carcassonne and Burma) and Inle Lake Burma.

[5] Taro Colocasia esculenta is not so appreciated in Europe, but is a staple of village subsistence throughout south-east Asia. It is close taxonomically to Arum maculatum, the lords and ladies of the cropland’s hedges and shady corners. For more on taro intercropped with ginger and chillies in Burma (Myanmar), see Mixed Cropping in Burma at curvedflatlands. Note the Latin name esculenta has been used for centuries in Scotland – in the form ‘esculent’ – to refer to tuber crops, including potato. For reference and source, see SoScotchBonnet on this web site.

Notes and experiences by

Thanks to gk-images for the photographs in the first two panels above.

Links to other pages and posts on vegetables on this site:



Fiberoptic 2

Water-image of bamboo weave, Inle, Burma (Squire)
Water-image of bamboo weave, Inle, Burma (Squire)

Reflection in water of bamboo matting on the wall of a stilt house, Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar) 2014. ….. first you grow your bamboo, then cut it into near-flat strips, then weave it into a tough fabric, then fix it to wooden or bamboo poles to form a screen or wall … on a house, built on bamboo poles, driven into the mud of a lake. See also Fiberoptic … Fiberoptic 3


White lily dark dye

The roots of the white water lily Nymphaea alba, extracted from the mud at the bottom of lakes, were once used to dye tweed ‘black, blue or dark brown’, and mixed with leaves to make a poultice (Scots Herbal).

White water lilly on a loch south of Inverness, taken 14 July 2014 (Squire)
White water lilly on a loch south of Inverness, taken 14 July 2014 (Squire)

Nymphaea alba is striking plant where it finds a place to expand in shallow lochs in open water between patches of reeds and sedges.  The plants in the photographs above were growing in water at least  one metre deep.  They began flowering in early July.  The small catchment that fed the loch had been mixed crops and grazing until the 1980s when it was turned to sheep grazing and sitka plantation. Apart from atmospheric deposition, the only pollutants were from animal dung and the annual sheep dip. Entry and outflow streams are crystal clear.

The metallic sky and water on this day recalled images of Tasek Bera (or Berak ) an inland expanse of water and swamp in Malaysia. Travel was by dugout and accommodation a small tent by the water’s edge: swimming in the dark water, paddling dugouts and exploring pandans,  pitcher plants and white water lilies. At that time, a  system in balance and now a Ramsar wetland site.

Images of Tasek Bera, Malaysia, scanned from 35 mm colour slides taken 1984 (Squire)
Images of Tasek Bera, Malaysia, scanned from 35 mm colour slides taken 1984 (Squire)

The photographs above taken on a visit in 1984  show (top left clockwise) water lilly, a view to the land surrounding the lake, pitcher plants and pandanus growing in the water, plant species uncertain.

More to follow on Tasek Bera.

Geoff Squire


Darwin T. 1996. The Scot’s herbal. Mercat Press, new edition 2008 by Berlinn.

Wetlands International web site for Tasek Bera – for information on the lake, plants and people, click the ‘Library’ tag on the site and next to ‘Current publications’ search for Tasek Bera to browse several sources including downloads.