Tuesday, 11 February 2014

One BSBI member's first visit to a herbarium.

Himantoglossum longibracteata (detail)
Reprinted by kind permission of the
Natural History Museum 
I spotted this great post about one botanist's first visit to Manchester Herbarium, which obviously brought out his Hogwarts-obsessed inner child. 

This is a common response to herbaria, where you find centuries-old ways of preserving plants, and specimens that may have been collected by Victorian plant-hunters (and are often stored in buildings of a similar age), juxtaposed with 21st century ways of recording data, monitoring changes in plant distributions and extracting plant material for DNA analysis. 

Apparently there are 72 different uses already identified for herbaria. They really are botanical treasure-troves and delving into them seems to bring out the wide-eyed inner child in every botanist. 

Laptops rub shoulders with C19th specimens
(the plants, not the volunteers or curator).
The Herbarium at University of Leicester (LTR).
Image: L. Marsh
At the BSBI's recent AEM, I heard a group of well-known, expert botanists (no names, sorry!) agreeing that the reason they became botanists was so they could run off to the woods and look at stuff. So now you know that you're not the only one - I suspect that all botanists are just big kids who want to see nice plants in nice places, preferably with a gang of botanically-inclined mates. And 'plants' includes the pressed specimens stored in a herbarium, and the extra stuff that goes with each specimen, like the collection details and sometimes a hand-painted illustration (see image above).


No surprise either to find out that Tim, the author of the Herbarium post, is a BSBI member, so his Blog called 'from here to ecology' is now the 29th entry in the list on the right of Blogs by BSBI members.

Treasure chest aka
herbarium cabinet, RBGE
Image: C. Metherell
And a Blog by the charmingly-named Linden Hawthorne, who has just joined the BSBI, becomes number 30. Click here, or follow the link on the right, to find out more about Three Hagges Jubilee Wood and the excellent work that Linden and her gang of botanically-inclined mates are doing to re-engage children with the natural world. 

It would be great if we big kids could let the smaller kids in on the secret - running off to the woods to look at stuff is great fun, there are loads of resources to help you ID any stuff you find and - best of all - stuff just gets better the longer and closer you look at it!