Guess Who Had a Herbarium?
Maura C. Flannery, College of Professional Studies, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics and Science
Abstract: Herbaria are collections of preserved plant specimens, particularly pressed plants that have been dried, attached to paper, and labeled. These “sheets” provide a treasure trove of information not only on plants but on environmental conditions and how they have changed over the past three centuries. In addition there is a great deal of human history preserved in the approximately 350 million sheets preserved in collections worldwide. (There are about 7.5 million in the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium.) Plant collecting was a much more popular activity in the past than it is today, and it was something that was not done just by botanists. While Carl Linnaeus and Charles Darwin had herbaria, you might be surprised by some others who seriously collected plants. The philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau not only had a personal herbarium, but also wrote to one of his patrons with instructions on how to create one. The Duchess of Portland, who was known for her massive collections, numbered pressed plants among them. The poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who had a keen interest in botany, had a herbarium. Later, the poet Emily Dickinson had one, and wrote asking a friend if she was also collecting, since all the girls were doing it. Meriweather Lewis took lessons on pressing plants before setting off with William Clark on their exploration of the West, and John Muir also had a botanical collection gleaned from his travels. The yen to press plants continued into the 20th century, with the artist Paul Klee having a collection.