Page 3 Profile: Kathy Willis, biologist


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The Independent Online

She looks familiar, I think...

Make no mistake. Professor Kathy Willis is the brains behind everything to do with biodiversity. She has taught at Oxford and Cambridge University. She is the director of science at Kew and an adjunct professor at the University of Bergen, Norway. Now she is coming into your home...

Into my home? Really?

Well, kind of. Professor Willis is set to present a 30-part series that explores our Britain’s botany heritage. All of it will be set against the historical backdrop that is London’s Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew.

Kew Gardens? Lovely. Plenty of history there...

Yes, and Professor Willis intends to show us as much of it as possible.

The series will begin with the work of Carl Linnaeus and the birth of modern botany in 1759, right through to scientists working to diversify the British breakfast table with a wider range of cereals.

Great, any decent anecdotes?

Many, in what promises to be a feast of British botany stories. One such is the battle between the botanists of the mid 19th century, as rivals at Kew and Chatsworth House went head-to-head to be the first to grow water lilies from seeds despatched from the Amazon.

Another is the story of the palm-like cycad which was brought to Kew in 1775. It belongs to a group  of plants that have existed for around 280 million years, outliving the dinosaurs and pre-dating  most mammals.

When does it start? And what has Professor Willis said?

She describes Britain’s botanical heritage as illuminating, promising that the series, which starts on the 21st of July will be a “compelling, tale of adventure and discovery, politics and conflict, breathtaking beauty and, ultimately, our dependency on plants.” She adds: “I hope this series will encourage listeners to look at plants in a new light.” Sounds like it certainly will.

Anything else?

Yes, the series will be also feature plant science researchers and historians, and will be accompanied by a book of the same name. Expect to never look at a plant in the same way again.