Fun in Cambridge MA: Glass Flowers at Harvard Museum of Natural History

On a recent visit to Massachusetts for my teenage son’s day at MIT’s Spark program, my elementary-aged daughter and I were looking for fun things to do in the Boston area while he was in class, so we went for a visit to the Harvard Museum of Natural History – HMNH in Cambridge. Among the usual natural history museum collections of minerals and taxidermied animals, HMNH has a stunning collection of handmade glass flowers that have to be seen to be believed.

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The flowers were commissioned by Professor George Lincoln Goodale for botany classes to study plant structures without being constrained by seasons and access to original plants. The glass flowers and plants were created from 1887 through 1936, and replaced inferior and crude papier mache and wax versions. Glass artisans Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolph made models of 847 species of flower, each a marvel of accuracy and lifelike detail.

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The specimens on display really do look as though they’ve been just pulled from the ground, and the detailed views of stamens, root systems, and other parts give a clear picture of how each plant works. The fineness of the glasswork is stunning, it’s hard to believe they are not actual plants, and are formed by hand from glass using tools like the ones on the bench shown above.

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The whole museum is worth checking out, we found it was a really fun thing to do with kids in Cambridge MA. It is just a short trip from Boston via the T to Harvard Square, and is a nice change of pace from other family tourism spots in Boston.

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