Picture it…


Plants in the Lab

For most people, the flowers, grasses and vegetable plants growing in their garden have very little to do with chemicals produced in the laboratories of both universities and the chemical industry. Indeed, many worry about the dangers and pollution which might emanate from chemical production sites and consider these a polar opposite of domestic gardening for food and flowers.

For most chemists, the distinction between nature and chemistry disappears early on in their training as they marvel at the molecules produced by plants, insects and animals, often more efficiently and cleanly than they would know how to. Making these “Natural Products” in the laboratory becomes a challenge and interactions with the world around us an inspiration to become better chemists. In addition, laboratories become exciting and aesthetically pleasing places once you understand their function, as well as any possible dangers.

By bringing beautiful and interesting plants and flowers into the laboratory setting and then explaining what some of the molecules produced naturally mean to chemists, we are hoping to challenge the familiar divide between nature and laboratory. Both are, in their own ways, full of beautiful and interesting molecules and stories, and we want to show some examples and so stimulate discussion about whether there is any divide at all.

Main Contributors: Jenny Slaughter (photography, ideas, words, editing), Natalie Fey (pictures, words, editing, tea)



Aloe (Aloe vera)

Apple (Malus domestica)

Banana (Musa acuminata, Musa balbisiana)

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea)

Chemistry of Autumn

Chilli (Capsicum spp.)

Chocolate (Theobroma cacao)

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.)

Euphorbia (Euphorbia spp.)

Fern (Dryopteris spp.)

Fig (Ficus carica)

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)


Herb Walk

Hops (Humulus lupulus)

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and Bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra)

Common Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides)

Lavender (Lavandula)


Onion, Garlic and Chives (Allium spp.)

Perennial Grass (Miscanthus)

Pepper (Piper nigrum)

Pineapple (Ananas comosus)

Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

Rose (Rosa damascena)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Spearmint (Mentha spiccata)

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)

Tea (Camellia sinensis)

Tobacco Plant (Nicotiana tabacum)

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)

4 thoughts on “Plants in the Lab

  1. Pingback: Welcome | Picture it...

  2. Great idea, looking forward to learning me some chemistry & botany (is there a name for this field? Chemical botany? Botanical chemistry? Or is it just natural product chemistry 🙂

    • Glad you like it. I don’t think it’s a named field as such. Maybe it should be.

      In chemistry, a very specific subset of molecules found in plants and other organisms such as marine sponges are generally considered natural products, and they often have multiple chiral centres, making them very challenging for synthetic organic chemists. The examples we have picked out span multiple areas, the metal oxalates, for example, are generally considered to fall in the domain of inorganic coordination chemistry, while some of the catalysts mentioned in later posts will be organometallic, and a lot of the analysis and measurements rely on physical chemistry. The interactions of some of the molecules with organisms start to fall into the area of biochemistry (a whole different department next door) and some of the evolution of defensive chemicals is biology (ditto), really.

      We try to find an interesting story about the molecules from all these areas of science, rather than sticking closely to our own areas of expertise. And we are just amateur gardeners, rather than botanists. Anyway, hope you keep finding new things to enjoy.

    • Found this and thought of your comment from last year:


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