Evolution of a Herbarium
|L. peruviana, the FLEPPC Category I plant|
that ignited my "need for names" gene.
Photo by Matthew Merritt.
In the early '90s I walked out of my apartment in Melbourne, Fl and became transfixed by a display of gorgeous yellow flowers in the nearby shrubbery. My immediate thought was, “what are those things?!”
Let me digress. I believe that some people are born with a “need for names” gene, myself among them. I simply cannot see an unfamiliar star, beetle, or snowfall without feeling compelled to know its name. It never ceases. “What is it?” is practically my mantra. It often takes me twice as long as others to read a book or article because I am constantly accessing my smart phone to look things up using Google and/or Bing. And thank you, thank you STEM for that Droid, which has freed me of the burden of toting paper, pencil, and an unabridged dictionary.
|Compulsory tools for the "name needer"|
and "botanizer" in each of you.
One's knowledge builds. I joined the Conradina Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and eventually rose to a hectic year or two as President. For a while I was Vice President of Finance for the State, a position I held for a record setting seven years as I recall. Basically, nobody else wanted the job. I have a story to tell about all of this, but, in the interest of staying on-topic, I’ll hold back. Just ask me sometime.
Botanizing (going out into the field to find and key out plants) became a passion. I was sooooooo lucky to have the legendary Margaret Hames as my mentor, in addition to the companionship of Bill and Shirley Hills, an incomparable couple. I spent many happy hours in the great outdoors with these true experts and wonderful friends just tramping earth, making lists, and learning how to use that big book without pictures, “Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida” by Wunderlin and Hansen: first memorize the glossary, then go to page 1.
At some point, Karen (my beautiful wife) and I met the brainy Suzanne Kennedy of the Brevard County Natural Resources Department. She was the speaker at a Conradina meeting. The subject was, you guessed it, herbariums. She was starting one for the County and wanted volunteers to help collect plants. Right after the presentation, I went straight to Suzanne and said, “me, me, pick me,” or words to that effect.
Learning the Ropes
With her patient teaching and that of a talented and experienced botanical drifter named Jim Tear, Karen and I began collecting and mounting specimens for the Brevard County Herbarium. We collected three specimens of each plant, one as a voucher specimen for the University of South Florida, a “gratis” specimen for Fairchild Tropical Gardens, and one for the Brevard County Herbarium.
|Proof positive of P. leucarpum in Calhoun|
Early on, our new house hardly furnished, we asked the Director of the University of Florida’s Extension Service in Blountstown what he thought about having his office sponsor our voluntary efforts to create a herbarium in Calhoun County.. He enthusiastically replied, “Great! Terrific!! How much money do you need? Let's do it!” Then, before I could respond, he said, “What’s a herbarium?” Anyhow, we all happily agreed to work together to make it happen, and have enjoyed a pleasant camaraderie with the folks in that office ever since, including its current Director, Judy Ludlow, and her able assistants (Peggy and Whitney).
|A standard metal herbarium cabinet will ensure|
that the collection outlasts the collector.
After we’d determined we would start a herbarium, it made sense to acquire an air tight, bug tight (the curator's worst nightmare), humidity-controlled (if possible), rain, fungus, wind, and ungulate proof storage unit for our collections - in short, a herbarium cabinet. At the time, all we had was an old wooden cabinet (not so hot for a plant collection… we keep supplies in it now) so we had to spring for a bona fide herbarium cabinet, all 1000 pounds of it at about $1.50 a pound (includes shipping).
Then there was the issue of supplies. We rounded up what we had access to locally, and purchased the remainder of what we needed from on-line biological supply houses. Once our order arrived, we were in business. Our inventory included:
|Plant press with press straps|
- Plant press , 12” x 18”– eventually ended up with 3
- Plant press straps, 2 per press
- Plant press ventilators, 12 x 18, maybe 8 dozen
- Plant press driers, 12 x 18, several dozen
- Unprinted newsprint, 12 x 17 when folded, several dozen
- Polyurethane foam, 12 x 18, several for pressing mean plants
- Rag Mounting Cards, 11.5 x 16.5, several dozen
- Fragment folders, 2.25 x 3.5 several dozen
- Printed label paper, 8.5 x 11, 100 or so
- Botanical glue
- Gummed cloth tape, 0.5 inch, 200 yards, 1 roll
- Drione insecticide dust for use against the horrors
- Moth balls for use against the horrors
- Desiccant for use against the insidious fungus
- GPS (my Droid) – calculate lat longs to WGS 1984 Spheroid for each specimen
- Clipboard, data form for labels etc for field work
- Plastic bags, trowels, clippers etc for collecting specimen
- Binoculars (optional – good for birds)
|Dr. Loran Anderson, Travis and Karen|
MacClendon out collecting specimens.
Allow me to briefly itemize the process through which our plant specimens are prepared:
- Collect two (sometimes three) representative samples of foliage, preferably with fruit and/or flower. Usually the plant is not harmed. Acceptable specimens are limited to vascular plants (no bryophytes, fungi, or gremlins) found growing free and wild. Items found growing in a nursery pot at the local hardware store do not qualify, regardless of how neglected they are.
- Place the specimen between folded newsprint between 2 driers which are between 2 ventilators, and then into the press. For thorny, stout, or unbending plants use foam to assist in taming their “meanness” (plant characteristic as described by Dr. Loran Anderson ). Tighten plant press straps to flatten the specimens with just about all the strength you can muster. I can generally get between 12 and 15 specimens in one press - maybe more, but Karen won’t allow it, and if she catches me I’m in trouble.
- Dry specimens until crispy. During the summer, our barn can reach well over 100°F, so one week with the fan is usually enough. During the cooler winter months, this part takes a bit longer. And don't get me started on how to dry cactus.
- Mount one dried specimen artfully on a museum grade (acid-free) mounting card, along with appropriate label, accession number, and fragment folder.
- Concurrent with the curing and mounting process, create a line item in a database for the specimen. Our database has 15 fields, including items like scientific and common name, citation, latitude and longitude of where the specimen was collected, description of the plant and habitat, whether it is native or alien, et cetera.
- From the database, create labels for the specimen(s) recipient(s). We have up to three recipients: our own herbarium (Calhoun County Herbarium), a voucher specimen to the University of South Florida Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, and the Godfrey Museum of Florida State University.
- Mail one unmounted specimen, label included, to USF.
- If the specimen has never been collected in Calhoun County, give one unmounted specimen, label included, to Dr. Loran Anderson of FSU.
- Take a high resolution photograph of the mounted specimen for loading onto the Calhoun County Herbarium website.
There is a certain division of labor that has evolved between Karen and I:
- Karen collects the specimens and places them in collecting bags.
- I record data and get the GPS coordinates for each specimen.
- Both of us sort collected specimens, make appropriate notations, and place them in the dryer (a table in front of a fan).
- I enter all data into the database, create labels and accession numbers.
- Karen mounts each specimen when it is dry with its corresponding data and accession number labels.
- I create a cover letter and list of specimens attached (along with their unique specimen numbers) for mailing to USF.
- I file the mounted and photographed specimens alphabetically by family, genus, and species in our Herbarium. Karen doesn't like to mess with these because of the herbicide/moth ball business.
- We both give Dr. Loran Anderson appropriate specimens at meetings of the Magnolia Chapter of the FNPS or on botanizing outings.
|Karen MacClendon (left) watching and learning from Dr. George Wilder (center), |
and Dr. Loran Anderson (right). All of them have made significant contributions
to to the Calhoun County Herbarium. (Thanks!).
|Travis and Karen|
Does your county have a herbarium? No? Then create one. It has most certainly been a satisfying, fun, and useful hobby for us. Still not sure how? No problem. Come up for a visit, go collecting, take our $2 herbarium tour, then eat cake (byoc).
Edited and posted by Laurie Sheldon