A herbarium packet also expresses one of the most basic principles ofscience in general, and of botany in particular - that a permanent recordshould be made of any plant or event of interest. Only a minority ofamateur plant growers keep such records, yet cultivated wild plantsbecome scientifically worthless if their habitat details are lost. Acollection of mosses and hepatics - almost all of which are likely to havebeen collected from the wild - will have no scientific value unless aPage 50
Moss Grower’s Handbooksecure record is kept of their origins, backed up, whenever possible, byherbarium specimens. Mosses are almost uniquely convenient plants formaking into herbarium packets. They are small and easily preserved in adry state. A half sheet of plain A4 paper is all that is needed. Such a herbarium packet provides a permanent record. It should usuallycontain some of the actual plant and (in my opinion, equally informative)a fragment of the soil or substrate on which it was growing. On the top ofthe packet should be written the name (if known) the location, and abrief description of the habitat, perhaps a map reference, a date andcollector's name, and also perhaps, a comment on the distinguishingfeatures of the species, and a note or sample of any associated plants.Details of how the plant is being grown, and of how it responds inculture, can also be conveniently written on later.The slow accumulation of millions of such packets, all over the country,over the decades, can become any museum curator's nightmare. I hadabout 40 shoeboxes full, many of which I never looked at again. Theywere given to Reading University botany department when we moved in2002, and 99% of them will never be of any use to anyone again. Theproblem is - I have no idea which 99%, It can be sad to look at the fadedyellowing specimens gathered by past generations of botanists. Yethidden in even these ancient packets may be valuable information,undreamed of by those who collected them, or as yet unknown.For instance; most years, one or two species of moss or hepatic are stillbeing added to the British list. Some are plants which have beenconfused with close relatives, and are only distinguished for the firsttime by careful comparison of living plants, and by combing through oldherbarium collections. Some are genuine new discoveries, and some arerecent arrivals, introduced from elsewhere in the world. Their origins,their history and their distribution, can often be traced by looking inthose dusty drawers and boxes.On of the greatest problems for botanists in Third World countries is thatthe herbarium collections made by pioneering botanists are usually in aFirst World country. Among them are often first gatherings of newspecies. They may be the type specimens on which the originaldescriptions were based, and without access to them, many plants (notjust mosses) are impossible to name. The loss of millions of specimens inBerlin in 1945 still causes problems for botanists, including bryologists.