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Archives 'Take Flight'

Read about archives that might take off! Find out more about some of the fantastic documents and illustrations we have in the collection at Kew.
Hannah Jenkinson

Happy New Year from the Archives Team! I’m Hannah, the Archives’ Graduate Trainee and I’m here to tell you about this year’s Archives Awareness Campaign (AAC) and about some of the fantastic documents we have in the collection at Kew.

AAC is an annual event that promotes an exploration and celebration of the wealth of archive treasures available to you! Archives throughout the UK are offering exciting and unusual interpretations of their archive material in exhibitions, displays, talks and articles.

This year the AAC theme is ‘Take Flight’. My interpretation of this theme has given me the chance to delve into the world of insect life here at Kew, revealing a variety of information about butterflies, moths and other insects, as well as vibrant and remarkable works of art in the Archive and Illustration collections.

A plant collector’s notebook from the nineteenth century would not usually create much interest from the average reader. However, one such notebook in the Archives is not what it seems. Colonel Francis Hall, the botanist and plant collector, produced a colourful volume of botanical and entomological drawings in his collecting notes from an expedition to Ecuador. The volume, received by Sir Joseph Hooker in 1880, contains vibrant illustrations of South American plants, as well as drawings of moths, butterflies, spiders, and caterpillars, one of which is displayed here.


Sir Joseph Hooker, dedicated botanist and director of Kew 1865-1885, spent several years collecting information and conducting experiments on insect consuming plants. His unusual insectivorous collection includes newspaper cuttings, a research diary with diagrams and correspondence from his close friend Charles Darwin. At this time Darwin wrote the first well-known thesis on carnivorous plants he wished to visit the Gardens at Kew to see examples of plants from the mimosa genus that were capable of rapid movement, much like the Venus fly trap.

Insect management plans and research carried out in more recent times show the continuing importance of insects for plants and animals in the Gardens. A management plan of butterflies in 1992 showed that some eight species of butterfly had ceased to exist at Kew Gardens since 1906. The plan recommended new seed mixtures and grass cutting regimes to increase butterfly numbers, and animals further along the food chain such as bats.

Insects are also found in works of art in the Illustrations collection. The botanical artist Maria Sibylla Merian famously illustrated key stages in the life cycle of insects against the background of its host plant. Her art of illustrating metamorphosis have earned her the title of the ‘first lady of ecology’. Not only do her paintings have scientific value, but they are undoubtedly vibrant and beautiful. In other illustrations you can find swallowtail butterflies, carpenter bees, longhorn beetles, and even a flea! If you are interested in insects and plants or would like to know more about this wonderful collection then you can contact the Illustrations Team at


- Hannah - 

More Information

  • Learn more about the Archives Awareness Campaign and see what is happening in an Archives near you at the AAC website
  • For further information about the Archives see our webpages or contact the Archives Team at
  • Read about Kew's Darwin Letters and the Appeal to raise money for them on our blog