Monday 16 September 2013

Supporting botanical collections III.

Sheets at SLBI, ready for Chris to go through.
Image: C. Metherell.
More people are emailing about how they rely on herbaria. Chris Metherell is writing a BSBI handbook on Eyebrights Euphrasia and tells me that he has been visiting as many relevant herbaria as possible. 

Chris said, "The first chap in the UK to take an interest in the genus Euphrasia was Frederick Townsend, who I feel a particular affinity for, as he came from Bournemouth, my home town. I easily tracked his herbarium down to the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI) and made arrangements to visit. They were unfailingly helpful."  SLBI's herbarium and library are housed in a converted house in Tulse Hill (!) where SLBI hosts talks and training courses, and offers volunteering opportunities for botanists.

Chris continued, "I had checked up on what might be there, and was interested to read, in Peter Yeo's paper revising Euphrasia in the UK (1978) that several of the type specimens for the genus were missing from the Townsend herbarium. Pity, I thought, but there would obviously be other interesting stuff. Anyway, they had got all the Euphrasia sets ready for me. A pile about 4 feet high - excellent! 

Digitising sheets for Herbaria@Home.
Image: C. Metherell. 
"The top set happened to be E. foulaensis so I started there. Almost the first sheet I looked at turned out to be the missing type specimen for E. foulaensis! Yelp of excitement and much interest from the volunteers. It had been designated by Herbert Pugsley in the 1920s [Pugsley also published an earlier revision of Euphrasia in 1930]. I didn't have time to go through the whole Euphrasia collection, but there were lots of other gems. I'm sure no-one has looked at the Euphrasias since Pugsley in the 1920s. Oddly, Peter Yeo obviously never went, as he always wrote notes on specimens he appraised."

As SLBI specimens are now being digitised for Herbaria@Home, Chris can continue working on the Euphrasia records from his home in North Northumberland, where he is a VCR, but he laments, "The only downside is that I don't have the very welcoming SLBI volunteers feeding me coffee and biscuits!" Chris is also a lutenist, so maybe he could compose an ayre on 'Weeping beside sad fountains, for I am without custard creams' in the style of John Dowland?    

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