A herbarium packet also expresses one of the most basic principles of science

A herbarium packet also expresses one of the most

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A herbarium packet also expresses one of the most basic principles of science in general, and of botany in particular - that a permanent record should be made of any plant or event of interest. Only a minority of amateur plant growers keep such records, yet cultivated wild plants become scientifically worthless if their habitat details are lost. A collection of mosses and hepatics - almost all of which are likely to have been collected from the wild - will have no scientific value unless a Page 50
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Moss Grower’s Handbook secure record is kept of their origins, backed up, whenever possible, by herbarium specimens. Mosses are almost uniquely convenient plants for making into herbarium packets. They are small and easily preserved in a dry state. A half sheet of plain A4 paper is all that is needed. Such a herbarium packet provides a permanent record. It should usually contain 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 of the packet should be written the name (if known) the location, and a brief description of the habitat, perhaps a map reference, a date and collector's name, and also perhaps, a comment on the distinguishing features 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 in culture, 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 had about 40 shoeboxes full, many of which I never looked at again. They were given to Reading University botany department when we moved in 2002, and 99% of them will never be of any use to anyone again. The problem is - I have no idea which 99%, It can be sad to look at the faded yellowing specimens gathered by past generations of botanists. Yet hidden 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 still being added to the British list. Some are plants which have been confused with close relatives, and are only distinguished for the first time by careful comparison of living plants, and by combing through old herbarium collections. Some are genuine new discoveries, and some are recent arrivals, introduced from elsewhere in the world. Their origins, their history and their distribution, can often be traced by looking in those dusty drawers and boxes. On of the greatest problems for botanists in Third World countries is that the herbarium collections made by pioneering botanists are usually in a First World country. Among them are often first gatherings of new species. They may be the type specimens on which the original descriptions were based, and without access to them, many plants (not just mosses) are impossible to name. The loss of millions of specimens in Berlin in 1945 still causes problems for botanists, including bryologists.
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