North American Landscape:
Kew at the British Museum

10 May – 25 November 2012
Museum Forecourt
Admission free

This summer the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the British Museum will create a North American-themed landscape on the Museum’s west lawn. The North American Landscape will focus on eastern and central North America, from Florida in the south to New England and Canada in the north. North America hosts a large percentage of the world’s broadleaf forests, temperate grasslands and Mediterranean-climate vegetation.

The North American Landscape will take the visitor on a journey across the North American continent by featuring unique and rare plants from its differing climates, and showcasing its rich biodiversity as well as contextual information on exploration, plant discoveries by Europeans and introduction into the UK, plant uses and threats, and indigenous themes.

Examples include sweet grass (Hierchloe odorata) that is used as incense because of its vanilla scent and is sacred to many of the indigenous Peoples of North America, who believe smoke from burning dried sweet grass welcomes in good spirits. Many of the grasses’ natural habitats of wet meadows, lake-shores, stream banks and low prairies have been lost and in Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina sweet grass is now endangered. The orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) is a member of the daisy family and is a prairie wildflower that thrives in open woods, meadows and pastures. The species was first described in England in 1789 by William Aiton the first curator of Kew Gardens in his catalogue of plants cultivated at Kew. Loss of habitat means this species is now endangered in New Jersey.

The North American Landscape and the accompanying events will connect to the material culture shown in the North American Gallery, exploring how the native peoples of the eastern seaboard had a close relationship with the landscape and its vegetation and were important contributors to European understanding of botany and natural history. Examples include the bark birch containers used by Native Americans to collect the sugary sap from trees like the Silver Maple, or the beautiful souvenirs made by Native women from Paper Birch bark for trading.

The natural history of North America is of worldwide scientific, ecological and cultural importance. The United States is classified by Conservation International as one of the world’s mega-diverse countries, these countries harbor a majority of the earth’s species.

Natural vegetation in this region is under threat and many plant species face extinction. Through the Seeds of Success programme, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is working in partnership with organisations in the USA and Canada to address threats to habitats and support the re-establishment of plants and eco-systems at risk. The Seeds of Success programme has collected over 3,000 native species for safe storage in seed banks in North America, with duplicate collections held at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Kew’s country garden, Wakehurst Place.

The North American Landscape is the fifth in a partnership programme between the British Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, that has created habitats from China (2008), India (2009), South Africa (2010) and Australia (2011). The landscapes have been themed to complement the public programmes at the British Museum and Kew. They celebrate the shared vision of both institutions to strengthen cultural understanding, support biodiversity conservation across the world, and raise awareness of global threats to fragile ecosystems. Colin Walsh, UK Managing Director, American Express, comments: "We are delighted to be supporting such an iconic and internationally respected institution as the British Museum. This relationship further underscores American Express’ commitment to preserving cultural heritage and engaging communities. We are certain the North American Landscape will delight visitors from around the world and will help raise awareness of this important ecosystem.”

Supported by the American Express Foundation

Perennial lupin (Lupinus perennis) with a bumblebee


For further information or images please contact the Press Office on +44 (0)20 7323 8394 / 8583 or

Notes to editors

A full public programme will accompany the exhibition. More information is available from the press office.

American Express

American Express is a global service company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success. A leader in global payments, American Express is the largest card issuer by purchase volume and operates a worldwide network that processes millions of merchants daily. We offer the broadest array of payment, expense management and travel solutions for consumers, small businesses, midsize companies and large corporations. Established in 1850 as U.S. express delivery service, American Express has remained a leader for generations by embracing both innovation and tradition. As our company has grown and evolved, sometimes reinventing our business outright, we have never strayed from the customer – service ethos and values on which the company was built – trust, security, integrity, quality, good citizenship, respect and customer commitment. Learn more at and connect with us on , and

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30,000 species). The aim is to conserve 25% by 2020 and funds are being actively sought in order to continue this vital work.Support the work of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership by getting involved with the ‘Adopt a Seed, Save a Species' campaign

For information about the Seeds of Success programme

Follow @britishmuseum and @kewgardens on Twitter

Like the Museum on Facebook and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Subscribe for updates at