The Herbarium: a new investigation from found materials

People are often curious about how I come up with ideas and topics for my books. “What inspires the creation of a book? Where do your ideas come from?” I can say very simply that my ideas come from things I read or see or events that happen to me. Here is the latest example.

Front and back seat and trunk of my car filled with herbarium mounts.

In early 2014 I attended several monthly meetings of a local herbarium society in hopes of finding a botanist to help me with a book project. In the herbarium on a bench under a sunny window lay a pile of 250 or so plant mounts destined for the trash. An herbarium mount or plant mount is a rectangular sheet of paper with a dried and pressed plant specimen attached to it. The herbarium was moving to a smaller space so they needed to weed out the collection, sorry for the pun.

It became apparent sorting through the stack of plant mounts that this was real scientific data and had taken a considerable effort on the part of many separate collectors to track down, collect, prepare, and store these specimens. I was interested in what was in there and offered to take them.

 

 

A herbarium mount of pndweed, Potamogetan pectinatus L., 1948.

An herbarium mount of pondweed, Potamogetan pectinatus L., 1948.

Considering their age these plant mounts are in remarkably good condition. There are specimens from as far away as India and from as early as 1850. The mounts are 11.5 inches wide by 16.5 inches tall and have labels affixed with the genus species name of the plant, the collector, the herbarium, and notes and location where the plant was found. There is also a number of the plant for the collector’s tally with a few of the collections numbering close to 100,000 plants. On the early specimens all information is hand written and even the printed labels have some kind of hand lettering on them. Many of the early plant annotations have plant descriptions as simple as “sandy field” or as descriptive as “found in mud, wet thickets, fairly high on bank, gently sloping, semi-open-seepy calcareous shore below spring high water.” Modern labeling standards also include GPS coordinates.

Detail of plant label from 1887.

Detail of plant label from 1887.

I am curious about this collection. Currently the data from these plant mounts is being entered into a computer spreadsheet program. From it I will be able to compile lists of collectors, and collections which will form the basis for further research and writing ideas. One happy development in the project is that I have found a home for the entire collection. It will go to an institution who will catalog and care for it.

Stay tuned for more details of the herbarium book project. Thank you for reading this blog entry.

Nancy   http://www.nancyleavitt.com

Priscilla Juvelis, bookdealer   http://www.juvelisbooks.com

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4 Responses to The Herbarium: a new investigation from found materials

  1. laura eriksson says:

    Nancy, your diligence in attending to the Wonders of Nature and her fascinating Science, are astounding!! Thank you for your artistic care. We look forward to your book which will emerge in its uniqueness and Beauty.

  2. Bonnie Faulkner says:

    What a wonderful find for you Nancy! I am very envious however…are actual plants that are pressed? As a gel printer, those are highly coveted! I can just imagine where they will take you. Such a wonderful historical account. I’d say you will be kept busy for a while.

    I hope the event at Campobello Island was good. I’m sorry to have missed it.

    Happy autumn, Bonnie

  3. i came back to re-read, and thought i’d left a message; anyway, this is a very interesting project, and your intervention has had a lovely result–the work will be saved and honored and perhaps provide clues for future researchers, as well as inspire you. if you don’t know about joanne b kaar’s work with the botanical collection of robert dick, you might look her up (she’s a scottish paper and fiber artist). very interesting stuff.

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