Monday 30 September 2013

Which herbarium is Chris in this week? 

Euphrasia scottica.
Image: J. Crellin 
Chris Metherell, currently writing a BSBI handbook on Euphrasia (Eyebrights), has been telling me about all the herbaria he is visiting as part of the research process. 

A fortnight ago, Chris was at the South London Botanical Institute, refinding a type specimen long thought lost, and last week he was back in his local herbarium (HAMUat the Hancock Museum. As Chris says, "having an herbarium nearby means that I've been able to order up loans from all over the shop for the Euphrasia project - Vienna, Prague, Copenhagen, Florence and Paris, not to mention several UK herbaria. Brilliant - the wild flower world comes to your doorstep!"  

While a dried specimen of Euphrasia (right) may not have the obvious charms of the living plant (above), the plant characters essential for ID can be seen clearly on a well-mounted herbarium sheet. A good specimen, dried and stored under optimal conditions, can be a valuable scientific resource centuries after it was picked, if accompanied by the essential details: who collected the plant, where and when.  

Chris happily acknowledges that "writing the Euphrasia handbook would be quite impossible without the help of various curators." And he is full of admiration for the efforts of the solitary curator at the Hancock who has charge of all the collections, not just botany. Chris said "Poor chap's run off his feet!" 

Chris Metherell examines Euphrasia sheets at HAMU.
With John Richards, BSBI referee for Taraxacum, Chris has been trying to encourage volunteering and they are both setting up a working party to integrate two recently acquired herbaria into the collection, one from the University of Newcastle and the other of the late George Swan

If you think you might be able to help out at HAMU, please send me an email and I can pass it on to Chris for you. And the Hancock does host botany courses so maybe some students will also be inspired to use, and go on to volunteer in, the herbarium?

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