You might think that working in a herbarium, a place crammed full of dead plants, would be a bit dull, but the stories that accompany those plants can be really interesting. Each collection was made by an explorer and each specimen caught that person’s eye for a reason. My favourite part of working in the herbarium is solving the puzzles that come up from time to time. One of our recent accomplishments has been putting together the bits and pieces of information we had about a collection that had been stored in the herbarium for many years.
We had boxes and boxes of pressed arctic specimens, cryptically labelled with abbreviations and dating from 1944. The labels were mainly scraps of paper with a date, some roman numerals and the initials A.R.A.T. Some were identified, some were partially identified and some were unknown species. We knew who A.R.A.T. was: Dr. A.R.A. Taylor had taught biology at UNB from 1946 to 1987. He had been responsible for “resurrecting” the herbarium from many years in storage in the Old Arts Building when he started here (Young, 1986). The arctic plants turned out to be part of his personal collection, picked up incidentally during a Geodetic Survey of Canada expedition led by T.H. Manning along the northeast coast of Hudson Bay. Taylor collected, pressed and dried approximately 800 plants on that trip!
In 2010 volunteer David Smith started by tallying all of the information he could glean from the scraps of paper. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Mills and some students began trying to track down more information about the expedition. They eventually found T.H.Manning’s account of the trip published in “Explorations on the East Coast of Hudson Bay” (Manning, T.H. 1947). From this and some partial maps, we generated an itinerary of their travels and linked that to the site numbers and locale details found on the labels.
Dr. Mary Young has spent the past 5 years resourcefully working her way through the collection, confirming the identities of the specimens, or, in fact, identifying them from scratch. This was generally not an easy task, given that the specimens were over 68 years old! Some were in quite rough shape and some had disintegrated entirely. The specimens were then mounted and databased and filed into our main collection. Thanks to all of these efforts, this collection has found a home in the Herbarium and will soon be available to researchers around the world, contributing to our ecological knowledge of the arctic.
We have been so fortunate to have such a dedicated group of volunteers ! I want to thank you all for showing up each week and helping us process all the piles of specimens that need work. From species identification workshops through databasing, mounting and filing, their hours of effort maintain the herbarium as a useful scientific resource.
Thanks to Elizabeth and Gart who organize our monthly plant identification workshops, Eileen and Karla who make art out of science, and Beverly and Clay who have stuck with the databasing despite so many technical glitches!
It seems like the end of term just now, as Karla is off home to Mexico and Beverly is off to survey birds over the summer. It looks like it will be fairly quiet here over the summer, but I hope to see familiar faces and new collections in the fall!
Feel free to drop by the herbarium on Wednesdays over the summer !
Every third Wednesday of the month, the Friends of the Connell Memorial Herbarium host a plant identification workshop to encourage interest in local botany. The sessions are held in the Biology (Bailey) Building at UNB, starting at 11 am and running until 3 pm. Attended by beginners and experts alike, these meet-ups are great places to learn about the plants in your own backyard, access resources such as our library and specimen collection, and scheme about botanical expeditions. In addition, you may be able to help the Herbarium with specimens waiting to be accepted into our collections.
This month we’re tackling some difficult graminoides!
This was an exceptional opportunity to learn more about the underwater / intertidal flora of the Bay of Fundy. In addition to serving as the herbarium’s Director, Dr. Gary Saunders (website) is a research professor at UNB interested in algal evolution, sytematics and biodiversity.
A while ago we had the opportunity to visit the herbarium and natural history storage facility for the New Brunswick Museum. I appreciated the chance to observe staff preparing and mounting plants for the herbarium, and to see the scope of their plant collections. In addition, we were shown some fabulous fossils and study skins.
Plant lovers set out into the living world to learn more about New Brunswick plants. This is from a field trip to Kouchibouguac National Park to search for rare plants led by David Mazzerole from the Conservation Data Centre.