Since both art and science enter
into preparing an herbarium specimen, a good specimen is both
beautiful to look
and a mine of information, while a poor one gives little pleasure
to artist or scientist.
herbarium specimen has two parts: the preserved plant, and the
label. Most anyone can imagine the challenge
of arranging blossoms without crumpling the petals, preserving
the shape of the leaves or ensuring the seedpod is intact. However,
few people recognize that equal care should be taken with the
information written on the label that is affixed, along with
the plant, to the final sheet. Each plant in an herbarium is
unique, and providing accurate, detailed information can place
it in its ecological, temporal, geographical and geological
art of the label is difficult to achieve. Most beginners assume
that "who, what, where and when" suffice. But because
this information is being written for someone in the future,
perhaps 100 years hence, difficulties may arise when details
that seem obvious today ¾ abbreviations, nicknames, local
knowledge ¾ become impenetrable within years.
UNC Herbarium contains thousands of specimens from the 1800s,
and they can be as useful to scientists as specimens collected
last year provided their labels can be properly interpreted.
herbarium sheet, dated 1940, says a plant's location was "by
the Tin Can on campus." Fortunately, the late Mary Felton,
long-time Chapel Hill resident and Assistant Herbarium Curator
for 29 years, knew that the "Tin Can" was the campus
athletic facility and noted its approximate location on a current
map. The person who collected that speciman, "HRT,"
knew who he was, but only those familiar with botany at UNC
in the 1940s would immediately recognize the initials of Dr.
Henry Roland Totten.
the date a plant was collected seems easy enough, but few collectors
bother to put the century on a label. The UNC Herbarium now
has specimens spanning three centuries, and you are advised
to avoid the wrath of Herbarium staff by writing out "2001"
instead of "'01" on any labels you may be preparing!
following examples illustrate the art and science of preparing
accession number: 20383
Scientific name: Scleria oligantha Ell.
Collector: W. W. Ashe
Collection Date: June 10 - July 6, 1898
Location: On or near the coast of North Carolina
W. Ashe, while an excellent botanist and important figure in
forestry, was not in the habit of writing detailed labels. A
diligent researcher may be able to pinpoint this plant's location
by examining Ashe's field notebooks in the UNC Herbarium.
accession number: 113912
Scientific name: Stellaria media (L.) Cyrillo
Collectors: Harry E. Ahles with George Ramseur
Collection Date: April 27, 1957
Location: railroad right-of-way, junction US Rt. 117 and
NC Rt. 403 in Faison, Duplin County, NC
one could no doubt find the location for this plant, if the
roads haven't changed too much in the past 40 years. The basics
accession number: 565364
Scientific name: Stellaria pubera Michx.
Collector: Claire Newell
Collection Date: May 27, 1992
Location: Linville Gorge Wilderness Vegetation Study Plot
11; UTM Zone 17, N3965647, E-418567; East-facing upper-slope
near Sitting Bull Trail, Linville Gorge Wilderness; Carya
glabra/Ageratina forest; diverse ground flora; 1189m; Burke
a little too much information for most purposes, but including
UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinates (or latitude/longitude,
or Global Positioning Satellite coordinates) is very useful
since they do not change over time.
accession number: 78808
Scientific name: Senecio aureus
Collection Date: May 10, 1930
Location: Near Hendersonville, N.C.; Called "Jack-screw"
in the mountains and said to be a cure for rheumatism when
used in the following way: "Soak roots in whiskey;
drink enough to get "warmed up" and keep drinking
along so as to stay "warmed up" for three or four
days; and then taper off with about three drinks a day for
as long as the rheumatism remains."
Rogers McVaugh, Research Professor of Botany, urged his students
to include on the label anything about the plant that could
not be observed when it was dried and mounted: total height,
petal and fruit color (which may change radically upon drying),
odor, toxicity, growth habit, etc. Details like this are time-consuming
to record in the field and then to transcribe onto a label,
but such information can be invaluable. My all-time favorite
label [shown above], while lacking in some areas (abbreviated
name, sketchy location), is memorable for just such a detail.