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Department of Plant Sciences

Agnes Arber plaque unveiling at the Botanic Garden with Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Penny Heath, Lucy Pollard and Cllr Baiju Thittala Varkey

This year the Department of Plant Sciences is celebrating 300 years since the appointment of the first Professor of Botany at Cambridge. As part of the celebrations, pioneering Cambridge botanist, Agnes Arber is being remembered with a blue plaque and a new PhD prize. 

Agnes Arber (1879 – 1960) was a plant morphologist and the first woman botanist to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. The plaque is being installed by local charity, Cambridge, Past, Present and Future, on her former Cambridge home at 52 Huntington Road. This is where Agnes set up a laboratory and did much of her work. 

An unveiling event for the plaque took place at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden on 30 May 2024. During the event the Botanic Garden also announced their sponsorship of an annual Agnes Arber PhD thesis prize for comparative biology. 

Professor Julian Hibberd, Head of the Department of Plant Sciences, attended the event. He spoke about the history of the department over the last 300 years and the impact that future plant sciences research can have on the world.

Professor Hibberd said “It was wonderful to see so many people at this event - celebrating our 300th anniversary and acknowledging the incredible work done by women such as Agnes Arber who had no formal recognition or support from the University."

He added "Thank you to all who attended, in particular Professor Anne Ferguson Smith for her speech and unveiling the plaque, and Lucy Pollard, Agnes Arber’s great niece who was able to provide unique insights from a family perspective. I am also grateful to Vicki Marshall from the Department of Plant Sciences, and Holly Singleton from the Development and Alumni Relations office, for their hard work in organising the event.”

Sam Brockington, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Curator at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, said “the University’s rich legacy in botany is marked by notable discoveries across many areas of the Plant Sciences. This year of celebrations is highlighting some of our scientific achievements including the work of Agnes Arber. We are delighted to be supporting a blue plaque to recognize her work."

Lucy Pollard, Agnes’ great niece said “our family are delighted that she is to receive this belated recognition. I remember her as a kind, quiet, unassuming person. I’m ashamed that, as a child, I had no idea that she was also a distinguished scholar”.

The Cambridge & District Blue Plaque Scheme recognises people and events that have made a significant impact on the area, the UK or, indeed, the world. It is run by local charity Cambridge Past, Present & Future. This will be the 39th blue plaque put up since the scheme started in 2001.

Her recognition is one of a number of achievements celebrated this year to mark 300 years since the appointment of Cambridge University's first Professor of Botany. 

Photo: Agnes Arber plaque unveiling at the Botanic Garden; from left to right Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith (Cambridge University), Penny Heath (Cambridge Past Present and Future), Lucy Pollard (Agnes’ great niece) and Cllr Baiju Thittala Varkey (Mayor of Cambridge); photo by Chris Loades 

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