Roles of Herbaria
Collections of plant specimens may serve one or more of a variety of purposes. Some of these may include the following.
Taxonomic Research: Taxonomy is the science of identification, naming and classifying. Specimens in a herbarium provide a sample of materials that can be used to prepare floras and monographs. Most herbaria have an international program of borrowing and lending herbarium specimens to other institutions. At UWO Professor Emeritus J.B. Phipps, who studies the genus Crataegus (Hawthorns) and other member of the order Maloideae, does most of the taxonomic research.
Storage of Reference Material and Vouchers: Herbarium specimens are dried and stuck to cards and then stored in insect-proof cabinets. This allows plants to be preserved for long periods. Vouchers allow future researchers to document the authenticity of the material on record. The most important vouchers are type specimens - individual specimens designated by the original author when a new taxon is described. Other vouchers are used to document specimens used in research. They may also document the record of a plant from a particular locality, or be drawn or photographed to represent a species in a monograph or flora. An efficient referencing system allows any specimen to be retrieved quickly.
Databank for biodiversity: Loss of biodiversity has been named as one of the major crises facing the world today. Specimens stored in herbaria provide documentation of biodiversity. Herbarium records may be used to create range maps and plot historic and current species distributions.
Public Outreach: The staff of the herbarium often provide information about poisonous plants, medicinal plants, weeds, ornamentals, species at risk and so on. Doctors, farmers, government officials, horticulturists, landscape architects, environmental consultants, foresters, landowners, students and teachers are among the many people who may make use of the herbarium.
Teaching: The material in a herbarium may be used to teach many subjects such as plant taxonomy, ecology, biogeography, history, biochemistry and ethnobotany.
Plant identification: Specimens of unknown plants may be brought to the herbarium for identification. Unknown plants can be matched against specimens in the herbarium.
This page was last updated on
September 19, 2007
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