Of all the parts of the herbarium, our General Flowering Plants collection has had more that it’s fair share of disruption from the University’s programme of building improvements. Work began something like 7 years ago with the renovation of the tower (those crazy Victorian architects!) which meant that the three upper store rooms had to be emptied. From then until now, about half of the General Flowering Plants has been hard-stacked (box, upon box, upon box – about 800 times) and as a result, it’s been very difficult to work with.
Now that we’ve reorganised the herbarium, we finally have a shelf for every box. One of the pleasures of this is that we can now put all the herbarium sheets back in the correct place. As sheets have been returned from loans, exhibitions, events, etc. we have been accumulating ‘lay-away’ boxes with all the sheets arranged inside in taxonomic order and just waiting for the time to go back in. Thanks to our dedicated volunteers (particularly Christine) it’s all getting put safely away in the correct place.
I spent a wonderful week at the Natural History Museum, London (NHM) on a placement. The aim of the scheme is to exchange knowledge, aid professional development and enable lasting change.
I learnt and experienced so much – here are some highlights.
My host was Ranee Prakesh, Curator of Flowering Plants. After my induction, she gave me a tour of the herbarium and Darwin Centre gallery, both housed in a purpose built cocoon:
In the afternoon I learnt about NHM’s Digital Collections project, and then got to work. I scanned herbarium sheets on a Herbscan machine – an upside down scanner. Some of the sheets had writing on the back so both sides had to be scanned. The images would be added to the museum’s database later.
On the second day, I was shown how NHM staff use Emu, the museum’s database, and learnt about the current rapid digitisation project. Herbarium specimens are shipped to The Netherlands for imaging on a conveyor belt / camera system called Digistreet, then the data from the images will be transcribed in Suriname. The NHM staff were waiting to find out the quality of the data.
I shared ideas with the plant mounting team, demonstrating ‘Manchester style’ (strapping) and having a go at the NHM way (glueing and pressing). They were surprised I cut my own straps from archival quality paper: sometimes the best way is not always the most expensive way. That’s one of the many things I love about curatorial work.
I was shown how loans were documented and packed in the afternoon, and how the NHM staff process a loan on Ke Emu.
Day 3 was spent in the herbarium store. Ranee explained how the herbarium sheets are arranged taxonomically according to APG, and filed geographically within this system. I spent some time sorting specimens to family and genus level in preparation for laying-in. The open plan workspace was visible through a window in the gallery so I had the public watching me at work!
Later that day I had a tour of the Specimen Preparation Area to see the V-Factor volunteers at work. They were sorting through sediment from a quarry, looking for tiny fossils, and a different project is run each weekday in this area visible from the museum gallery.
The fourth day was spent in The Cryptogamic Herbarium. I had a short tour of the bryophyte collection then got to work repackaging mosses into individual capsules:
I was showed round the historical collections and the fern herbarium in the afternoon. We discussed Integrated Pest Management and preventative conservation in relation to historic botany collections.
I also worked alongside Ranee laying out specimens ready for the plant mounters. This involved placing the pressed specimen and label on a sheet of mounting paper and enclosing any loose material in a capsule. There was a large amount of newly donated material to be mounted and filed in the herbarium sent in from researchers and staff on expeditions.
On the fifth day I had a tour of the Linnean Society. Carl Linnaeus’s personal herbarium in particular was amazing to see.
Next, I learnt about citizen science at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. This is where the public gather or analyse data for research or curatorial purposes, such as transcribing data from a bird register, which is an NHM project called ‘Notes from Nature’ currently running on Zooniverse.
To wrap it all up there was a tea party at the end of my last day. It was lovely to see the staff I had met during the week and thank them all for giving up their time and making me feel so welcome. I am intending that some lasting change will happen at Manchester Museum as a result of my week at the NHM, particularly better storage for our type specimens and some changes to volunteering.
Many thanks to all the curators and collections managers at the NHM who allowed me this fantastic opportunity.
I was surprised and delighted to find that Richard Spruce has a statue in Banos, Ecuador. I found out through twitter. Spruce was the first European to explore and collect plants in the Amazon basin and Andes and the herbarium at the Manchester Museum has thousands of his liverwort specimens. Many of them are types. I tweeted this last week:
and was delighted to receive a reply from Annaliese (@GoLiveJourney) who said: “Wow! Richard Spruce was an ancestor of mine; I recently went to the Amazon in search of statue of him. Hooked on botany now!”
We contacted her and she sent us these pictures:
The statue is in Rio Verde, Banos, Ecuador. I found another article on it – it was installed in 2006. In this article, there is mention of the unveiling ceremony of the bust. The participants spent the afternoon on leisure walks to some of the localities visited by Spruce, and “a highlight was finding the rare liverwort Myriocolea irrorata Spruce, known only from the River Topo and long considered extinct. Spruce was particularly attracted to this species, which he considered “perhaps the most interesting bryophyte that I have every found … and the only agreeable souvenir I have preserved of this river” (Spruce 1908, Notes of a botanist on the Amazon and the Andes, vol. 2, p. 167).”
We are very proud to have four specimens of Myriocolea irrorata collected by Spruce from Ecuador. (Photos to follow after the building work in the herbarium is over)
Anneliese has a lovely blog, and we all think twitter is a great way of sharing knowledge!
The Manchester Museum Herbarium has a collection of around three-quarters of a million specimens, from all over the world. Recently, hundreds of specimens from the Museum’s liverwort collection from the Amazon, Brazil have been returned from a research loan to Gottingen University. I have been updating the Museum database with name changes and adding these high quality images that the researchers took. It is also the first time that any of the Museum’s botanical specimens have been barcoded. We have plans to barcode and photograph some of the algae collection soon.
These liverwort specimens were mostly collected by Richard Spruce, a Yorkshire botanist who was one of the first to collect plant specimens from the Amazon and Andes. A lot of his specimens are type specimens (the particular specimen or group of specimens to which a scientific name is formally attached). Type specimens are often requested on loan by other institutions so the features of the type specimen can be compared with the researcher’s own plant material. The Museum has a large number of liverwort types, and because of this the liverworts frequently get sent out on loan.
Liverworts are a small moss-like plant. Below: a type specimen
One migration story I’ve been looking into is how plants get to the UK (either by accident or design). In December I decided to visit the Manchester Christmas markets with David Gelsthorpe to see what people had brought along to sell.
First we went to see what horticultural delights had arrived from the Netherlands on the Dutch nursery stalls.
I decided to buy some bulbs to grow and add to the collection by pressing the flowers later in the year.
Then we found a lovely stall specialising in Greek herbs, herbal teas and honey.