Wednesday, April 24, 2013

WNC Herbarium Visit

Whenever I heard about the Herbarium, I envisioned a huge greenhouse filled to overflowing with healthy and unusual herbs.  Imagine my confusion when the door opened unto several wooden cabinets filled with folders.  I thought to myself, "what is this?

Well, I was about to be enlightened and it was amazing!  The herbarium is a library of plant specimens gathered from all over this region.  The specimens are then mounted, labeled, dried and frozen (to kill any insects or bacteria) before  

I asked Dan what would be the most valuable part of the collection. Here is his reply:

"Most folks wouldn't value pressed plant specimens although each one probably costs about $5-10 to process and maintain properly.  If they were worth $10 each and we had 28,000, the value would be a significant quarter million!  Well, if the whole collection were to burn, that would really be an irreplaceable loss, mainly for the scientific documentation represented. The main difference between a regular library and a collection of specimens is the fact that they represent tangible materials that can be studied again with microscopes comparing directly with fresh materials.  And when we add a sample that can be tested for its DNA, this makes it an even more valuable to our scientists."

You might think that photographs would be an alternative for documenting plant specimens, like Dan said, you could not hold the specimen in your hand and turn it over and feel its texture the way you can with the physical item.

Kathy Matthews, Director and Curator of the Herbarium, shows us  the process.

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