Botany for Amateurs: Pressing Plants

Dr. Priestley’s specimen of Carex depauperata, Natural History Museum, London (BM000059255)

Flow is a German magazine dedicated to the paper arts.  It had an English edition until the pandemic, and a friend of my sent me a section on plants from Issue 17, the last English-language number.  It was in three parts.  The first included a brief history of herbaria, a description of a Dutch stationery store’s line of herbarium-themed paper products, and of course, instructions on how to press plants between sheets of paper.  Next was a small Pocket Herbarium, a booklet pasted right onto on the magazine’s pages, ready for use in saving specimens.  It was created by Saskia de Valk who has already marketed a larger version.  The third section included three sheets of much heavier paper with reproductions of Maria Merian prints, suitable for framing as they say.  This entire feature, really the entire magazine, was definitely aimed at amateurs and women.  It could easily be dismissed as DIY fluff, but in the first section Luca Ghini is mentioned as an early champion of plant collections, and the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew is highlighted as the world’s largest.  Presenting Merian’s work provides exposure to some of the best botanical illustration.  In other words, these elements might just encourage some to explore plants, and herbaria, more avidly.

I was seduced by herbaria when I saw a couple of seaweed scrapbooks from 19th-century Rhode Island produced by local women, one the governor’s wife.  Anna Atkins was not a “professional” botanist, but she could be classified as a professional photographer, and her volumes of seaweed cyanotypes were the first published photography books.  Cyanotypes of plant material are still popular today, as is scrapbooking of all kinds.  I myself am not enamored of this medium, but as I discussed in the last post, there is a spectrum of approaches and levels of expertise in any endeavor.  It can be hard to tell at what point a herbarium morphs into a scrapbook or visa versa.  Leopold Grindon, who worked as a cashier for a Manchester textile company, donated 39,000 specimens to the Manchester Herbarium; this is one of its three foundational collections.   What makes it distinctive is that Grindon often attached illustrations, drawings, and entire articles to a specimen sheet, and in many cases, the accessory material was so extensive it needed a second or third sheet.  The texts included botanical journal articles as well as cuttings from magazines and newspapers.  It is an amazing archive, but there are many collectors who less vigorously augmented specimens.  The Harvard botanist Oakes Ames was one, often including drawings by his wife Blanche Ames (Flannery, 2012). 

Moving along the spectrum are those, mostly amateurs, who kept their specimens in books, and added either their own art or printed illustrations to the specimens.  There are many 19th-century scrapbooks with poems and other musings either printed or by the maker, along with cuttings; the language of flowers was popular at this time and often leaked into collections that also included scientific nomenclature.  In other words, amateurs ignored the borders between science and art, or science and life.  Even when the use of plant material was quite whimsical, as in a scrapbook of literary clippings with small plant cuttings—and feathers—as decoration, the attention to detail belies a great deal of observation.  Another notebook, the Bible Album of the naturalist Eliza Brightwen has only a few cuttings, but many drawings and prints of plants, along with religious art and texts.  Plants were woven deeply into the lived experience of women who documented them in these books.

The Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Yale Center for British Art has a few of these gems which were highlighted in a wonderful book Of Green, Bird, and Flower: Artist’s Books and the Natural World (Fairman, 2014).  One example is an herbarium created by a Miss Rowe apparently as an entry in an herbarium contest conducted by the Liverpool Naturalists’ Field Club in 1861.  Such competitions were relatively common in the 19th century and were akin to horticultural competitions for the best rose or geranium or flower arrangement.  There is no record of who won this particular contest but this entry should have.  Each carefully labeled specimen was enclosed in a blue envelope with a watercolor of the plant painted on it.  These were arranged in a wooden stationary box.  Miss Rowe was definitely someone who took her botany seriously, and her art as well. 

But lest you think that only women were careful in their presentation of plants, I have to mention a single specimen that I saw on the Twitter feed for the Natural History Museum, London (@NHM_Botany).  It is a Carex depauperata specimen collected by William Overend Priestley.  In the upper left hand corner, outside a blue sheet framed in gold there is a note: “Prepared by Dr. Priestley, and presented by him 1889.”  I don’t know if this sheet is unique, or if Dr. Priestley, whose Wikipedia entry describes him as an obstetrician and makes no mention of botanical interests, made a habit of creating such extravaganzas.  All I know is that this one sheet has everything:  not only the specimen, but illustrations of the flower parts, along with dissected parts (see above).  There are also seeds and even nature prints of seeds at the bottom.  The illustrations are very delicate, done with a fine hand.  And I have to say the gold trim is a nice touch.  This specimen is light on information, though it does give the date and location of collection and the plant’s scientific name.  It’s hard to see this as a serious scientific artifact, but it is, and illustrates just how hard it is to fit botanical work into neat categories.

References

Fairman, E. R. (Ed.). (2014). Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower: Artist’s Books and the Natural World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Flannery, M. C. (2012). Blanche and Oakes Ames: A relationship of art and science. Plant Science Bulletin, 58(2), 60–64.

Herbaria: Specimens Get Around

Cover of Capitulum, Volume 2, Number 1

Years ago, my husband would attend meetings of the Popular Culture Association because he was interested in visual aspects of the popularization of science in 19th century magazines and books.  I of course tagged along, and soon discovered that the PCA was about much more than comic books and plastic toys.  There are dozens of sections and I found ones that dealt with material culture, the study of things—including two of my loves: natural history specimens and textiles.  Material culture deals with human-made artifacts and would seem to exclude specimens, but that’s hardly the case.  A specimen is an artifact.  A herbarium sheet is more than a plant.  It’s a piece of paper with at least one label, and the plant has been processed by humans to behave well in two dimensions.  The botanical artist Rachel Pedder-Smith wrote about herbaria and material culture in her dissertation that accompanied her spectacular painting of Kew specimens, Herbarium Specimen Painting.

Over time, a specimen accretes greater significance as more humans interact with it.  Deborah Harkness (2007) writes:  “Every time a dried plant specimen changed hands it became infused with new cultural and intellectual currency as its provenance became richer, its associations greater” (p. 31).  Often though not always, the transfer is noted physically on the sheet, making it easier to explain how a particular plant from, for example Germany, ended up in New Zealand, or why plants collected on a Captain James Cook expedition found a home in Philadelphia.  In the last three posts (1,2,3) I’ve discussed attempts to puzzle out the provenance of herbaria, now I want to take this down to the “microhistory” level and look at the travels of individual sheets. 

I got this idea from a lovely article I read in Capitulum, the recently revamped newsletter of The International Compositae Alliance (TICA).  Abigail Moore (2022) writes about a single sheet at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University that has two gatherings of what is now Grindelia ciliata(Nutt.) Spreng.  The first was collected in 1819 by Thomas Nuttall, a British botanist who worked for many years in the United States and collected widely in the West.  The label just gives “Arkansas” as the locale, but in the species description, Nuttall (1821) added “on the alluvial banks of the Arkansas, and Great Salt River.”  The second gathering was from Samuel Woodhouse, who was like many collectors in the West, a U.S. Army surgeon/naturalist.  He was on the Sitgreaves Expedition 1849-1851 to map in the same region Nuttall had visited 30 years earlier.  The locale is “Cherokee Nation,” and Moore explains the technicalities of that term at the time, pointing to an area close to where Nuttall had found the first specimen.  She ends by going into the rather complex nomenclatural history of this species, explaining the various names on the labels.  It’s a lovely article and a reminder of how much can be learned from a single sheet.

In a very different example of the rich history that ANS specimens can reveal, Earle Spamer (1998) writes of 26 sheets there that were collected by Johann Reingold Forster and his son Johann Georg, naturalists on Captain James Cook’s second around-the-world voyage.  Spamer describes how much they collected and how broadly the specimens were distributed, in most cases to British or at least European herbaria.  The ANS specimens were given in 1834 by Thomas Nuttall, who apparently got them from Aylmer Bourke Lambert, an avid British botanist and collector (they are marked “Lambert Herbarium”).  Some Lewis and Clark specimens at the ANS were also once part of Lambert’s herbarium but arrived by a very different route—a story for another time (Spamer & McCourt, 2002). 

On the other side of the world, the herbarium of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has a briefer history than ANS but none-the-less an interesting collection.  Eighty-four of its specimens traveled from Japan to Russian to Britain before arriving back in the Pacific.  The Russian botanist Carl Maximowich collected in Japan from 1860-1864 and returned to Saint Petersburg with 72 chests of specimens.  The Natural History Museum, London received 1500 from this hoard, and they sent 84 on to New Zealand.  At the time, New Zealand was a young colony, trying to develop its scientific infrastructure and the museum sought assistance from London.

These specimens were part of a much larger European collection of 28,000 specimens bought from NHM by the museum’s director James Hector in 1865.  He thought Australian botanists needed a reference collection to aid in identification of the many non-native plants spreading through the colony, either inadvertently or purposefully brought in by settlers.  As often happens in understaffed herbaria, most of this material lay in storage until the 1950s, and some of it has only recently been examined in detail.  The collection was put together by three British collectors, but within it were materials collected by others, including at least one specimen of an Easter Island plant (see earlier post).  There were also specimens gathered by a German botanist Johannes Flügge (1775-1816) who established a botanical garden in Hamburg.  It was destroyed by Napoleon’s forces in 1813, yet here is a record of what was growing on the other side of the globe when New Zealand wasn’t even an official colony.  That’s the wonder of herbaria and why I study them.  I bore easily, but I am confident that there is an endless supply of examples like this to keep me intrigued.    

References

Harkness, D. E. (2007). The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Moore, A. (2022). Grindelia ciliata (Astereae), Thomas Nuttall, and the exploration of the American West. Capitulum, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.53875/capitulum.01.2.07

Pedder-Smith, R. (2012). Herbarium Specimen Painting. Rachel Pedder-Smith. http://www.rachelpeddersmith.com/Herbarium/Herbarium.html

Spamer, E. (1998). Circumventing Captain Cook. Lewisia, 2, 2–5.

Spamer, E., & McCourt, R. (2002). The Lewis and Clark Herbarium of The Academy of Natural Sciences. Part 1. Notulae Naturae, 475, 1–46.

Herbaria: Sorting Things Out

Specimen of Zollernia glabra from Brazil, Herbarium Wied [140], photo by P.L.R. des Moraes from article (2009)

It’s hardly news that the preponderance of type specimens are in Northern Hemisphere collections (Park et al., 2021).  To increase accessibility for countries in the species-rich Southern Hemisphere, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded the digitization of over two million botanical type specimens that are now available through JSTOR Global Plants.  Yes, for most of us there is a paywall to scale to fully use the site, but support is available for third-world institutions to gain access.  It is an impressive resource and botanists are using it for more than just finding type specimens of interest.  For two Latin-American botanists, Sandra Reinales and Carlos Parra-O. (2022), Global Plants was a major tool in “disentangling” the specimens of José Jerónimo Triana (1828-1890).  He was a Colombian botanist who collected plants from 1851-1857 for the Chorographic Commission set up by the newly organized government of Colombia.  After the survey was completed, he turned over to the commission a full set of the plants he collected along with a catalogue where the specimens were numbered and organized taxonomically.  This became the “Colombian Catalogue.” 

Triana then took his duplicates to Europe and worked at the Paris herbarium.  There he created a new list, renumbering the specimens.  It ended up in the Natural History Museum, London and so is the “London Catalogue.”  I think you can probably figure out where this story is going, but to add one more level of complexity.  In the listing of some species in the second catalogue is another set of numbers:  collection numbers for specimens gathered by Jean Jules Linden with whom Triana had a long collaboration.  These are designated “Linden numbers.”  The article includes photographs of pages from the catalogues; they are hand written neatly, with the information given in columns. 

The problem is how to relate these catalogues to the many collections containing Triana material.  Obviously the catalogue numbers and specimens sync for those that remain in Colombia.  However, there were multiple duplicates for many of his gatherings located in the NHM, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, and several other European and North American herbaria.  To attempt to figure out the location of type specimens, the authors searched for Triana specimens in JSTOR Global Plants and found over 5000 records.  They then searched in other databases for additional types and cleaned the data by reading the label information and removing those specimens that didn’t fit their criteria.  Obviously this was a lengthy and tedious process, and they were rewarded with some knotty problems to solve.  I can’t even scratch the surface of their detailed work, but I’ll give a brief summary of a couple of issues.  There were cases where the same Triana gathering was used to describe different species; the different numbers on the labels of duplicates was one of the issues.  There were also cases where Triana and other botanists collected in the same area at the same time. One of the specimens designated as a type for Meriania umbellata, a species collected and described by Karl Wilhelm Karsten, also has a Triana label and collection number on it.  To alleviate some issues, Reinales and Parro-O. present guidelines for lectotypification of some names of specimens that Triana described based on his specimens.

Now I soldier on to another herbarium, no less problematic (Moraes, 2009).  Again, it involves South American plants, this time collected by Prince Maximillian of Wied when he was in Brazil from 1815 to 1817.  He explored along the southeastern coast, a species-rich rainforest area.  In 1998  historians were searching family records in what had been his palace and rediscovered his private herbarium.  It had been missing for 20 years and was found when an intrepid researcher decided to investigate a difficult to get at cabinet.  In it were 22 parcels of plants collected over 26 years, so they obviously contained more than the Brazilian material.  In all there were 7000 plants including some from his trip to North America and his European collections, and there were 125 Brazilian plants.  Though this is modest compared to the 5000 specimens of 1000 species that he gathered in Brazil, it does contribute to knowledge of Wied’s work because there are still many of his specimens that haven’t been located.  As with a number of German collections, some might have been destroyed in the large-scale damage to the Berlin-Dalhem herbarium during WWII. 

To bring up the major issue with the Triana specimens of collection numbers, the situation is not as confusing here, though hardly ideal.  Wied didn’t used collection numbers, but he did number some specimens later as he studied them, and some were also numbered by others in the course of their work.  Of the 125 Brazilian specimens in his personal collection, there are 98 species represented, several of which are not found in other Wied material.  Unfortunately, he rarely gave location information on his labels.  Still, Moraes notes:  “Species kept in the private collection of Brazilian plants gathered by Wied represent a precious register of the flora of the Atlantic rainforest of the 19th century.  Its historical value is indisputable since Wied’s vouchers are among the first ones collected in Brazil that are still extant”(p. 46).  In other words, the contents of that cabinet were a pleasant botanical surprise.

References

Moraes, P. L. R. (2009). The Brazilian herbarium of Maximilian, Prince of Wied. Neodiversity, 4(2), 16–51. https://doi.org/10.13102/neod.42.1

Park, D. S., Feng, X., Akiyama, S., Ardiyani, M., Avendaño, N., Barina, Z., Bärtschi, B., Belgrano, M., Betancur, J., Bijmoer, R., Bogaerts, A., Cano, A., Danihelka, J., Garg, A., Giblin, D. E., Gogoi, R., Guggisberg, A., Hyvärinen, M., James, S. A., … Davis, C. C. (2021). The colonial legacy of herbaria. bioRxiv (p. 2021.10.27.466174). https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.10.27.466174

Reinales, S., & Parra-O., C. (2022). Disentangling the historical collection of José Jerónimo Triana from the República de la Nueva Granada between 1851 and 1857. Taxon, 71(2), 420–439. https://doi.org/10.1002/tax.12653

Herbaria: Two Views of the Zierikzee Herbarium

Specimen of common soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), Zierikzee Herbarium

As discussed in the last post, older herbaria are being given increased attention because they shed light on what plants were in growing in Europe and in European gardens at the time, and how botanists approached their work.  But as with any old documents, it is often difficult to unlock their secrets.  A case in point is a beautiful herbarium at the natural history museum in Zierikzee in the Netherlands with no information on who the collector might have been.  In 2021, two articles were published on its contents and provenance, each presenting different conclusions as to who created it and when.  The article by a team from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden came out first, and I read it first (Offerhaus et al., 2021).  Like the herbaria discussed in the last post, also studied by a Naturalis team, efforts were made to identify all the species and provide up-to-date names.  The organization of the sheets, the information on the labels, the type of paper used, and many other possible clues were presented. 

In the case of the Zierikzee Herbarium, there was an analysis of the ornate printed labels and vases found on all but 21 of 348 plants.  Their use seems to have been a primarily Dutch fad in the first half of the 18th century.  They definitely perk up a specimen, giving it a bit of class or status, showing the taste of the collector.  Carl Linnaeus’s patron in the Netherlands, the wealthy merchant and horticulturalist George Clifford used them; they befitted someone with a large garden, and a greenhouse each for Asian, American, European, and African plants.  Historians of botany have studied them and in some cases identified the printers and the years when they were produced.  In the case of the Zierikzee, the Naturalis group focused on labels with a putto on each side of a frame with the species information using pre-Linnaean nomenclature written, in the blank space between them. 

Both articles also researched old auction catalogues to attempt to find the answer to who created this work.  There is not direct evidence in the herbarium itself, which is the major mystery at the center of this controversy.  In the second article, Gerard Thijsse (2021) found a resemblance between an herbarium auctioned in 1790, that of Martin Wilhelm Schwencke.  It consisted of 10 volumes, and Thijsse thinks that six of them make up the herbarium in Zierikzee and that Schwencke collected the plants early in his long career.  Thijsse gives a detailed explanation as to why this makes more sense than the Naturalis team’s hypothesis, which links the herbarium to Jacob Ligtvoet  described in a 1752 auction catalogue shortly after his death.  Reading these two reports reminded me of opposing lawyers carefully laying out their arguments, using a variety of different kinds of evidence, some of it scientific some of it textual.

Both articles also discussed evidence from computer analyses of similarities between the information given in published botanical sources and the label data, which included references to several authors.  The two studies significantly diverge.  The Naturalis group sees some resemblances between the label data and the information in Herman Boerhaave’s two catalogues of the plants in the Leiden botanical garden, one published in 1720 and the other in 1730.  They suggest that the herbarium began to be put together between these two dates and consider the likely creator to be the gardener at Leiden, Jacob Ligtvoet who helped Boerhaave with the second catalogue.  They note that along with the preponderance of the plants from the Netherlands but there are exotic species that Boerhaave obtained from those associated with the Dutch East India Company

On the other hand, Thijsse found that the herbarium contains a “virtually” complete set of the plants mentioned by the unknown author of the 1738 Pharmacopoea Hagana.  He also argues that one of the vases used is similar to one the Georg Ehret designed in 1734, so that the Naturalis date for the herbarium is too early.  Since Thijsse’s article appeared later than the Naturalis one, he had the luxury of questioning some of its findings.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Naturalis is now working on a rebuttal.  Of course, there is much fertile ground for argument here.  Many pharmacopoeia of the time included similar species, and the plants could have been mounted earlier and then the vases added later as a decorative afterthought.  That’s the problem with history, it is impossible to know everything about the past, information is always limited and open to interpretation. 

This is very reminiscent of scientific controversies, where researchers ask similar questions but use different protocols or methods of attack and come up with opposite conclusions.  Is that because one of them is wrong or because they are really not looking at the same phenomenon?  Only more research will provide the answer, which may very well be the case here, or there will be a stalemate.  I’ve just finished rereading these articles, and my head hurts.  For once I have reached my herbarium saturation point.  I think there is more here than I want to know about this one collection.  One the other hand, I am not sorry that I spent time on this because it helped me to see how historians work.  Like scientists, they have to be creative in how they approach their problem, asking different kinds of questions so that eventually they may perhaps find a niche that opens up a new world of answers.

References

Post 2

Offerhaus, A., de Haas, E., Porck, H., Kardinaal, A., Ek, R., Pokorni, O., & van Andel, T. (2020). The Zierikzee Herbarium: Contents and origins of an enigmatic 18th century herbarium. Blumea, 66, 1–52. https://doi.org/10.3767/blumea.2021.66.01.01

Thijsse, G. (2021). The four W’s of two 18th century Dutch herbaria: The “Zierikzee Herbarium” and the herbarium of Simon D’Oignies. Blumea, 66, 263–274. https://doi.org/10.3767/blumea.2021.66.03.09

Herbaria: Pre-Linnaean

Specimen of Helichrysum arenarium from Breyne’s 1673 herbarium, Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Jong et al., 2022)

As I‘ve previously mentioned, older herbaria particularly pre-Linnaean ones are receiving increased attention.  In the past, the fact that they were of little use in investigating nomenclatural issues and often had scant label data meant they weren’t of much interest.  But historians are now finding them rich sources for studies on botanical inquiry in earlier centuries.  In addition, these collections are gold mines of information about the ecology of the areas where the plants were gathered and in some cases about agricultural and horticultural practices.  Historical research is often about solving mysteries of the past, and herbaria are full of clues.  This set of posts will deal with a few interesting collections.  The first is pre-Linnaean, that of the Prussian merchant and collector Jacob Breyne (1637-1697). 

In a previous series of posts on early modern herbaria (1,2,3,4) I discussed several in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands.  This institution not only has an outstanding collection but has supported a great deal of research on pre-Linnaean herbaria under the direction of Tinde van Andel, who holds appointments at both Leiden and Wageningen Universities.  She and her colleagues examined Jacob Breyne’s two book herbaria in Naturalis and set them in the context of what has been uncovered about his life (Jong et al., 2022).  With every personal herbarium there is an interplay between the plants and the maker in terms of where that person lived, where they might have traveled, and who else they knew in the botanical world.  In this case, Breyne was from a Dutch family that had moved to what is now Gdansk, Poland where they were traders in raw materials for medicines and dyes.  He learned botany in school and collected around Gdansk.  He then spent time in the Netherlands while he trained as a merchant with this uncle.  He also visited botanical gardens and studied botany at Leiden.  After returning to Gdansk he continued his interest in plants and corresponded with Dutch botanists and collectors connected to the Dutch East India Company, giving him access to plant material from South Africa and Asia.

Breyne’s two bound herbaria, one dated 1659 and the other 1673, indicate he had a sustained interest in plants.  In the two are a total of 105 specimens, some with original labels.  However there’s evidence of many missing specimens, often with the labels missing as well:  60 from the first, which only has 48 remaining, and 10 from the second, from which 10 pages were also cut out.  Most of the plants in these volumes are European species, many from the Gdansk area.  They give a picture of what was growing there at the time and how the flora has changed.  Breyne noted that the frog orchid Dactylorhiza viridis was abundant, though it’s now designated as regionally extinct for Gdansk and its vicinity.  Though there are few exotic specimens included, most plants in these collections are from this area.  Breyne may have collected them on his travels or gotten them from others; the labels contain little information on provenance.

There is another collection of Breyne specimens at Naturalis as part of the large Van Royen Herbarium, which was compiled by Adriaan van Royen (1704-1779) director of the Leiden botanic garden and his nephew David (1727-1799).  Van Andel and her colleagues examined the 89 specimens designated as from Breyne, but found that only 59 had labels with his handwriting, and some of the remainder had nothing indicating a connection to him (Jong et al., 2021).  They studied the 59 with the aim of finding specimens that might have been removed at some point from the two bound herbaria.  However, it became clear that there was probably no such link.  Most of unbound plants were from southern not northern Europe and specifically from the area around Montpelier in southern France, site of a university with a long tradition of botanical inquiry.  There are a couple of possibilities of how Breyne acquired this material since he was not known to have traveled that far.  Historians sift through a collector’s life experience to attempt to find links to collection specimens.  A contemporary of his, Ernst Gottfried Heyse, studied at Leiden and Montpelier before returning to Gdansk to teach and direct the botanical garden there.  Also Breyne corresponded and traded specimens with the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort.

There are limits to how many questions old collections can answer.  There is no good explanation as to why or when so much of Breyne’s older herbaria was removed.  Also, there’s no convincing hypotheses to explain how some of his specimens ended up in the van Royen Collection.  Breyne died several years before the elder van Royen was even born, but specimens do have a tendency to be passed from botanist to botanist.  The specimens in question appear to have been cut from larger sheets, perhaps from a bound volume.  After his father’s death, Breyne’s son was known to have sent parts of his collection to other botanists, and Leiden was a likely place to send them because of the family’s Dutch heritage.  Perhaps more information will turn up in the future, but even now a great deal has been learned recently about Breyne and his collections.  In the next post in this series, even deeper mysteries surround another old herbarium, and the results of the latest investigations are still open to debate.  

Reference

de Jong, M., Duistermaat, L., Stefanaki, A., & Andel, T. van. (2022). The book herbaria of Jacob Breyne (1637-1697) in the collection of Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, the Netherlands). Blumea, 67, 77-96.https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-885416/v1

de Jong, M., Stefanaki, A., & van Andel, T. (2022). Mediterranean specimens of the Prussian Botanist Jacob Breyne (1637–1697) in the Van Royen Herbarium, Leiden, The Netherlands. Botany Letters, 169(2), 294-301. https://doi.org/10.1080/23818107.2022.2038667

Collections in the Future

Methods for measuring leaf shape in butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, (Woodson 1947, p. 368)

This month’s series of posts will diverge from usual where I keep to one theme.  This time, I’ll seesaw between two topics that I, at least, see as related.  Each stems from a recent publication I found particularly noteworthy on how plant collections will be used and curated in the future.  The first is an article by Mason Heberling (2022) on “Herbaria as Big Data Sources of Plant Traits” and appeared in the International Journal of Plant Sciences.  It is a review of a topic that hasn’t received enough attention:  how herbaria can be used in functional trait analysis.  The other is Issue 8 of The Ethnobotany Assembly or T.E.A., a quarterly online journal about plant-people relationships.  It’s entitled Plant Humanities: Where Arts, Humanities, and Plants Meet and is edited and with a contribution by Felix Driver and Caroline Cornish.  There is a great deal coming out about the plant humanities and some of it I find disappointing, but not this publication.  The articles are varied and thought-provoking, but I’ll save further comments until the next post. 

Why am I juxtaposing such different types of work?  Precisely because they are so different.  Yet they both speak volumes about the possible future of herbaria if researchers of this caliber continue to give their attention to the amazing resources that plant specimens provide to so many fields.  I begin with plant traits because this topic fits squarely within biological inquiry, where recent reports like those on the Extended Specimen Network clearly put herbaria.  However, Heberling argues that specimens have been neglected by plant trait researchers who tend to look elsewhere for data.  He lays out his case in the first part of the article and also provides examples of where herbaria have made significant contributions to the field.  In the second part, which I’ll discuss later, he outlines how in the future herbaria and collecting might adapt to support this area of research. 

After his introduction, Heberling discusses community ecologists’ growing use of plant functional traits in their research during the past 20 years.  Functional traits include morphological, chemical, phenological, and physiological attributes that serve as surrogates in understanding individual fitness.  He uses as an example work on the leaf economics spectrum (LES) where characteristics such as leaf mass per area, construction costs, photosynthetic rate, and leaf life span have been found to relate to each other.  This quartet varies along a spectrum from long-lived, high construction costs, low photosynthetic rates, and large area to the other end with opposite traits.  Patterns falling outside the spectrum are thought to be maladaptive. 

Heberling notes that in most of this work “little or no explicit attention has been paid toward specimens as primary sources of trait data (p. 90).”  One reason he gives is that functional trait analyses are a recent development in plant science and preparing specimens is a technology that has been around for a long time.  In the past, noting traits like phenological status was not necessarily considered important, especially because it would be apparent to someone looking at the specimen.  This made sense until the age of digital data when researchers can be searching online databases for label information on phenological status and not finding it.  An image may not be available, and even if it were, it would be much more time efficient to simply search the data files.  Other changes in processing specimens that could aid trait research include preserving plants in different stages of development for life history research.

Also tackled are the arguments ecologists and evolutionary biologists have against using specimens, including issues of collection bias, such as toward ignoring young and immature plants and choosing those with flower and fruit.  This makes sense for taxonomic studies but not for plant life history work.  However, he contends that “we cannot assume the limits of herbaria without trying (p. 101).”  In this case, awareness of the issue could lead to changes in collection practices, with a broader selection of material chosen.  As for the idea that leaf area changes markedly over time in dried specimens, the assumption has been disproven in comparative studies.  Several traits, including amino acid and metal contents have also been validated for herbarium-based measurement.

Heberling provides an extensive table citing findings where specimens have been studied in trait research and describes many ingenious approaches used both in early studies and also more recently.  One of my favorites is a 2002 paper by Teece et al. on 11 Lewis and Clark specimens, among the earliest collected in the Western United States before development and industrialization caused substantive environmental changes.   Leaf fatty acid content was measured as was stable carbon isotope composition.  These results served as an important baseline for comparison to later specimens.  Heberling also discusses the vast literature on stomata, leaf area, herbivory, and other traits that is based on specimens.  It is a fascinating review.  However, he then notes that there is little herbarium specimen data in the two major trait databases TRY, begun in 2007 and BIEN, started in 2016.  With about 12 million records, TRY has only 10.4% of North American woody plants represented by even one specific leaf area measurement.  It is this dearth that Heberling addresses in the latter part of his article and that I’ll look at in the third post of this series. 

References

Heberling, J. M. (2022). Herbaria as Big Data Sources of Plant Traits. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 183(2), 87–118. https://doi.org/10.1086/717623.

Teece, M. A., Fogel, M., Tuross, N., McCourt, R. M., & Spamer, E. (2002). The Lewis and Clark Herbarium of The Academy of Natural Sciences. Part 3. Modern environmental applications of a historic nineteenth century botanical collection. Notulae Naturae, 477, 1–20.

Woodson, R. E. (1947). Some Dynamics of Leaf Variation in Asclepias tuberosa. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 34(4), 353. https://doi.org/10.2307/2394774.

Many Treasure Rooms

Specimens of Iris pseudacorus, Herbarium Ratzenberger (1556-1592). Naturkundemuseum Kassel. Photo by Peter Mansfeld.

In this series of posts (1,2,3) I’m exploring what Tinde van Andel calls “treasure rooms” in museums and libraries that hold early modern herbaria.  I’ve discussed some of these in the Netherlands, Italy, and Switzerland, now I want to hunt down a few spread more widely.  One was created by Caspar Ratzenberger in Germany between 1556 and 1592.  It is preserved in three volumes in the Natural History Museum of Kassel, Germany (see figure above).  It contains plants that he grew in his garden, including some exotics such as tobacco.  In 1858, a resident of the city sought it out after reading a reference to such a collection.  He found it stored but forgotten in a government building and made a list of the plants it contained.  Little else seems to have been done on this collection. 

            While the Ratzenberger herbarium didn’t travel far from its point of origin, that isn’t true of some other treasures.  One created in 1606 by Gregorio da Reggio, who collected around Bologna, is now in the Oxford University herbarium (Marner, 2006).  It was given to William Sherard by his friend Giuseppe Monti, director of the Bologna Botanical Garden shortly before Sherard’s death.  Sherard left his collections to Oxford, but this is only part of the story.  The “gift” was meant as an exchange.  Sherard had agreed to send Monti the second volume of Hans Sloane’s Natural History of Jamaica, but died before he could do so.  Monti asked Sherard’s brother James for the book, but the sibling ignored the letter because he was miffed at being cut out of the will.  Johann Dillenius, who had become professor of botany at Oxford thanks to Sherard’s funding the position, finally sent the Sloane book to Monti (Harris, 2011).  While it is certainly a gem, it is not unique like the herbarium, which has three hundred specimens with extensive labels.  Unusual for the time, the labels contain information on locality, habitat, and in some cases even flowering times and medicinal uses as well as literature citations. 

            María Carrión (2017) of Emory University has examined a number of early herbaria and written particularly about an Italian collection in Spain’s Royal Library of El Escorial (2017, 2019).  The collector of these four volumes is unknown, but it was owned by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, who had served as Spanish Ambassador to Venice, where he had built up an extensive library, including this herbarium.  He later fell out of favor with the king and was living in exile when the monarch, who was eager to acquire the library with its extensive collection of Greek manuscripts, offered to allow Mendoza to return home if he bequeathed his library to the king.  Since the focus was on the Greek manuscripts, the herbarium didn’t receive much attention.  Carrión has examined the collection and found discrepancies between the number of plants listed in the index to each volume and the plants actually present, with in each case the lists missing plants.  Some are off by a few plants, but for the second volume only 99 of the 209 plants are recorded.  She also found that the first volume is much more focused on medicinal uses than are the others.  As with any herbarium, without any supporting material to offer hints, it is difficult to imagine all the details that went into its construction. 

            The oldest herbarium in the National Museum of Natural History herbarium in Paris dates to 1558 and was created by Jehan Girault, a medical student at the University of Lyons.  With 81 pages and 310 plants, it was kept at the University until 1721 when it was sent to the botanist Antoine de Jussieu in Paris.  It became part of the museum’s collection in 1857, a small portion of the eight million specimens now stored there, yet it is an important piece of the history of medical and botanical education in France.  Girault was a student of Jacques Daléchamps, who in turn was a student of Guillaume Rondelet, one of the pioneers of early modern botany.  Rondelet taught at the University of Montpellier that has a rich history, and he was an early proponent of fields trips as a botanical learning tool (Ogilvie, 2006).

            I’ll end this survey with the creator of multiple herbaria that still exist.  Hieronymus Harder produced 11 extant collections, with most still in Germany, where he lived (Dobras, 2009).  Some were presentation volumes like Andrea Cesalpino’s in Florence that I mentioned in the last post.  Harder was a teacher interested in medicinal plants, and most of the plants are from the area surrounding his Bavarian home.  However, there are also specimens of tobacco, pepper, and tomato which had spread so rapidly across Europe through seed sharing among botanists.  There is also a single herbarium created by Harder’s son, Johannes, an apothecary, at the Oak Spring Garden Library in Virginia.  What makes all these volumes particularly interesting is that the Harders had the habit of “embellishing” or “improving” specimens with watercolor paints to fill in missing petals or stems, to add roots or bulbs, or create a tuft of grass to ground a plant.  The son’s work is the most heavily altered and is an example of the experiments early modern botanists tried in attempting to communicate as much information as possible through their collections.  It is wonderful that such variations still exist to give a sense of the ardor and experimentation of the period.

References

Carrión, M. M. (2017). Planted knowledge: Art, science, and preservation in the sixteenth-century herbarium from the Hurtado de Mendoza Collection in El Escorial. Journal of Early Modern Studies, 6(1), 47–67. https://doi.org/10.5840/jems2017613

Carrión, M. M. (2019). Planting dwelling thinking. Natural history and philosophy in sixteenth-century European dried gardens. Gardens and Landscapes: Sciendo, 6, 5–19. https://doi.org/10.2478/glp-2019-0009.

Dobras, W. (2009). Hieronymus Harder and his twelve plant collections. Ulm Und Oberschwaben, Journal of History, Art and Culture, 56, 46–82.

Harris, S. (2011). Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden, 1501-1900. Cambridge: Bodleian Library.

Marner, S. K. (2006). 400 years old! (A book herbarium from Italy). Oxford Plant Systematics], 13, 9–10.

Ogilvie, B. W. (2006). The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Swiss Treasure Rooms

Facing pages from Felix Platter’s Herbarium. Bern City Library.

This post in the series (1,2) on the whereabouts of early modern herbaria begins with two notable collections in Switzerland, Felix Platter’s (1536-1614) at the Bern City Library and Caspar Bauhin’s (1560-1624) at the University of Basel’s herbarium.  Both are significant and both were the subject of an article by Davina Benkert (2016), where she does a wonderful job of describing each and comparing them.  As with many collections this old, portions are missing.  Platter eventually bound his specimens and had 18 volumes of which nine survive.  In many cases, he pasted a plant on the right hand page and one or more illustrations on the left.  Among these are prints as well as watercolors, including 77 by Hans Weiditz, the originals of the plates used in Otto Brunfel’s 1530 Herbarum vivae eicones.  Paper being valuable, Weiditz had painted on both sides of each sheet.  Wanting to get the most out of them, Platter cut them out so he could use both plants, sometimes painting in parts that were missing.  He also at times “fiddled” with specimens, such as pasting stamens to the outside of tulip flowers to make them visible.  These practices horrify present-day art historians and botanists, but this was early modern botany and techniques had yet to be codified. 

Bauhin was Platter’s student at the University of Basel and they collected together.  Eventually Bauhin joined the faculty and worked on his plant compendium, Pinax theatri botanici published there in 1623.  They used the specimens differently, so they treated them differently.  Platter used his in teaching and as reference.  Though he had early on kept his specimens loose, he eventually preferred bound volumes because they allowed him to show his collection to visitors, something he relished, without damaging the plants.  He used Bauhin’s classification system.  Even though it hadn’t been published yet, he was obviously privy to the manuscript.   

On the other hand, Bauhin was trying to build a comprehensive collection to use in creating a planned work on taxonomy.  He kept his specimens loose, slipped between folded sheets of paper with identification slips.  This enabled him to reorganize them as his ideas about relationships among them changed, but it also meant fragments and labels could easily slip out.  It also made it easier to remove specimens.  Bauhin’s collection continued to be used for teaching and reference after his death.  His descendants allowed botanists to select specimens, which explains why two-thirds of the originals are gone (Benkert, 2016).  In 1774, what remained was purchased by Werner von Lachenel, a University of Basel botanist who integrated the sheets into his own herbarium.  When the University acquired his herbarium, they then sorted out Bauhin’s sheets, but 400 were in such poor condition they were discarded.  Here at least we have some idea of why the collection is so greatly reduced.  In many cases, the dwindling of a collection isn’t as well documented.  I should add that sometimes items are later found as when 300 of Ulisse Aldrovandi’s specimens (see last post) were discovered in a later Italian collection (Mossetti, 1990).  Again, this might seem horrifying, but it is really a form of borrowing, a common practice; it’s just that in the Bauhin and Aldrovandi cases it was done posthumously. 

Alette Fleischer (2017) has written an article with a great title Leaves on the Loose and subtitled “The Changing Nature of Archiving Plants and Botanical Knowledge” and that deals with these issues.  She notes that when herbaria were unbound all ties could be lost to the history of a sheet and who made it.  She sees the digitization of old collections as a boon to “recombining” specimens, setting them next to each other for comparison.  James Petiver, an avid British collector, amassed over 100 herbaria, which eventually become part of Hans Sloane’s herbarium, now at the Natural History Museum, London.  Fleisher writes that “According to his beliefs on order, Petiver compiled, or more precisely recompiled nearly every herbarium that came into his possession.  .  .  .  He not only took sheets from older herbaria, but also cut out bits of paper and plants and glued these together with other specimens, thereby losing labels, names, and information” (pp. 125-126).

Reading statements like this explains a lot about why the early history of herbaria is fragmentary.  It also makes what is available that much more wonderful.  Particularly wonderful is the website that has been created around Platter’s herbarium, with the pages organized by volume and by species names.  In addition there are webpages with information on Platter and the collection’s history.  It’s thrilling to be able to closely study the pages, especially those with Weiditz images.  The University of Basel herbarium website states the Bauhin herbarium has been imaged, but I could not find a link to it, so I am not sure if it is available online.  In time it probably will be, another wonderful digital treasure.  In the meantime, the Platter volumes would keep anyone with an interest in early modern botany busy for a long time. 

References

Benkert, D. (2016). The ‘Hortus Siccus’ as a focal point: Knowledge, environment, and image in Felix Platter’s and Caspar Bauhin’s herbaria. In S. Burghartz, L. Burkart, & C. Göttler (Eds.), Sites of Mediation (pp. 211–239). Leiden: Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004325760_010.

Fleischer, A. (2017). Leaves on the loose: The changing nature of archiving plants and botanical knowledge. Journal of Early Modern Studies, 6(1), 117–135. https://doi.org/10.5840/jems2017616.

Mossetti, U. (1990). Catalogue of Ulisse Aldrovandi’s herbarium: The specimens found in the herbaria of Giuseppe Monti and Ferdinando Bassi. Webbia, 44(1), 151–164. https://doi.org/10.1080/00837792.1990.10670471.

Italian Treasure Rooms

Orchid specimens, Aldrovandi herbarium. University of Bologna.

In this series of posts I am exploring some early modern herbaria that are becoming better known in the 21st century after having been carefully preserved in collections for centuries.  Since the habit of pressing plants in all likelihood arose in Italy, with efforts by Luca Ghini to encourage his students to take up the practice, it’s not surprising that many of the oldest herbaria remain in Italy (Findlen, 2017).  In the last post, I mentioned that the oldest one, begun in 1532, is at the Angelica Library in Rome and now attributed to Ghini’s student Francesco Petrollini, who taught at the University of Bologna.  One of his students, Ulisse Aldrovandi, was also a protégé of Ghini’s.  Aldrovandi had the financial means to amass a large herbarium and a collection of botanical illustrations, as well as other natural history materials and art.  Fifteen volumes of plant material survive in Bologna.  The almost 5000 specimens they contain attest to Aldrovandi’s interest in plants that went beyond the medicinal.  He acquired plants from the eastern Mediterranean, northern Europe, the Americas, and even the Far East.  In many cases, he also had the same plants painted, many from life.

There is interest in such early herbaria because they are physical links to what botanists were looking at and studying at the time.  The botanists were often as interested in receiving seeds.  If they could coax them to germinate, then they would have both living material to study and also to preserve as dried specimens, enough specimens to share with others along with the seeds.  Seeds, unlike specimens, were botanical capital that could increase over time.  While they are less likely to survive than specimens (seeds were capital that was meant to be spent), their importance is documented in surviving letters and other archival materials.  This is how researchers working on another Petrollini herbarium, the En Tibi in Leiden (see last post), were able to find evidence that he had probably received the tomato seeds that produced the plant preserved in his collection from Ghini, who in all likelihood had received them from another of his former students Luigi Anguillara.   

It is these links that are lurking in museums and libraries.  Digitizing specimens and in some cases correspondence will make ferreting out connections easier, but it is still slow and painstaking work.  And work that requires the skills of a historian.  I hate to admit this because I am not a historian and would like to be able to easily find and use the most arcane of materials.  But Google and Wikipedia just don’t cut it.  Even much more sophisticated databases aren’t enough.  That’s why it’s such a joy to read what historians have been able to discover.  In a recent paper, Italian researchers reported finding a specimen of tobacco in the 16th century Erbario Estense preserved in the Modena State Archives (Vicentini et al., 2020).  This is one of only four tobacco specimens of that age in Italy; the others are in Aldrovandi’s collection.  The creator of this herbarium is unknown, but there is evidence that it was made in Ferrara between 1570 and 1598.  It also contains other American species including the tomato which seems to have become ubiquitous in Europe by the end of the century. 

Another important Italian herbarium, this one at the Botanic Garden of Florence, is Andrea Cesalpino’s.  Also one of Ghini’s students, he took over from Ghini as director of the Botanical Garden of Pisa when Ghini returned to Bologna the year before his death (Findlen, 2017).  Cesalpino’s herbarium is particularly important because of its organization.  It was made for a bishop as a way for him to learn about plants and their relationships.  Cesalpino was one of the first to go beyond just describing plants and attempted to organize them by similar traits.  He published on this work but with the herbarium it’s possible to see his theory in action.  Cesalpino also had other collections but this is the only one that survives (Nepi & Gusmerol, 2008). 

It is no wonder that extant herbaria are rare this early in the history of modern botany.  First, preserving specimens had yet to become an essential part of botanical practice.  Pietro Andrea Mattioli, who published a famous translation of the ancient materia medica by Dioscorides, used specimens when writing plant descriptions but then disposed of them.  He later rued this practice.  In other cases, future generations were responsible for the loss.  While Conrad Gessner’s amazing illustrated notebooks remain, his specimens do not, perhaps because his heirs saw the beautiful watercolors as more valuable than the dried “plant skeletons.”  The Neapolitan pharmacist Ferrante Imperato had an 80-volume herbarium but his collection was dispersed about 30 years after his death during a plague in 1656 and only nine volumes remained.  A political uprising in 1799 led to destruction of eight of them.  The remaining volume with 440 plants survives at the National Library of Naples.  A 1903 report on the specimens notes that the collection did not seem to be well taken care of and suffered from insect damage (Giglioli, 1903).

There is a recent update on Imperato’s specimens.  Two researchers studied specimens in the herbarium of the agriculture school at the University of Naples.  They were in the collection of the 18th century botanist Domenico Crillo, who had once owned the nine Imperato volumes.  The specimens were very different from the rest, and when analyzed with a variety of techniques including carbon dating, watermarks, and handwriting analysis, were found to probably have once been part of Imperato’s collection.  (De Natale & Cellinese, 2009).

References

De Natale, A., & Cellinese, N. (2009). Imperato, Cirillo, and a Series of Unfortunate Events: A Novel Approach to Assess the Unknown Provenance of Historical Herbarium Specimens. Taxon, 58(3), 963–970. https://doi.org/10.1002/tax.583024.

Findlen, P. (2017). The death of a naturalist: Knowledge and Community in Late Renaissance Italy. In G. Manning & C. Klestinec (Eds.), Professors, Physicians and Practices in the History of Medicine (pp. 127–167). New York: Springer.

Giglioli, I. (1903). The herbarium of Ferrante Imperato in Naples. Nature, 67(1735), 296–297.

Nepi, C., & Gusmerol, E. (2008). Gli erbari aretini da Andrea Cesalpino ai giorni nostri. Florence: Firenze University Press.

Vicentini, C. B., Buldrini, F., Romagnoli, C., & Bosi, G. (2020). Tobacco in the Erbario Estense and other Renaissance evidence of the Columbian taxon in Italy. Rendiconti Lincei. Scienze Fisiche e Naturali. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12210-020-00959-x.

Open the Treasure Rooms

Tomato specimen from the En Tibi herbarium, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden

This post’s title comes from Tinde van Andel’s inaugural lecture as Clusius Chair of History of Botany and Gardens at Leiden University in the Netherlands:  Open the Treasure Room and Decolonize the Museum.  Working with a team of researchers, the room van Andel is exploring is at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and is indeed a particularly rich collection.  It has a number of 16th-century herbaria, including the En Tibi dated to about 1554 and attributed by van Andel and her team to Francesco Petrollini, a student of Luca Ghini who was at least an early proponent if not the originator of preserving pressed specimens (Stefanaki et al., 2019).  Petrollini is also now thought to have created a herbarium in Rome’s Angelica Library that had been attributed to another Ghini student, Gherardo Cibo.  It was begun in 1532, making it the earliest extant collection.

Also in Leiden are herbaria created by Leonhard Rauwolf who collected in France as well as in the Middle East (see earlier post).  Van Andel’s commented in her lecture that when she showed specimens of sorghum, eggplant, and pistachio that Rauwolf had found in agricultural plots in Syria, it was the first time in over 400 years that someone from the Middle East had set on eyes on them.  These plants document what was being grown at the time and may yield DNA revealing more about the history of these crops (Ghorbani et al., 2018).  That they are physical evidence for plants of the past is one reason the collections are treasures.

As another example of what these riches have revealed, van Andel, working with molecular biologists as well as historians, has taken a look at the early history of the tomato in Europe.  They have recently published on this work, presenting specimens as well as illustrations, putting together a possible timeline of how the plant spread through Europe from Spain to Italy and then to northern Europe (Andel et al., 2022).  The fact that there was quite a bit of evidence suggests interest in this strange fruit.  The specimen in En Tibi even has half a tomato attached.  A small portion of a leaf was removed and DNA extracted from it; research suggests that it was a domesticated plant.  Petrollini probably obtained seeds from Ghini, who may have gotten them from a former student Luigi Anguillara, director of the botanical garden in Padua near Venice, which was a busy port where many exotic species arrived.  So this one page of En Tibi reveals much not only about the plant’s biology but also about its history in Europe and about how a tightly knit botanical network enabled rapid transmission not only of information but of seeds and other botanical material. 

For a long time, early herbaria were ignored, as van Andel’s comment about Rauwolf’s collection indicates.  Any pre-Linnaean herbarium that had not been studied by Carl Linnaeus and therefore not used by him in naming species was considered irrelevant to modern botany, which dates from the publication of Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum of 1753.  The collections were deemed worth keeping, but not worth serious study.  This has changed recently for a number of reasons, including the renewed interest in natural history collections in general as sources of information about biodiversity.  There is also interest in botany’s social history as the second half of van Andel’s title suggests:  decolonize the museum.

The Netherlands was an important naval power with an eye on botanical riches such as nutmeg and cinnamon from the East, but any plants of interest were welcomed in the homeland by eager gardeners looking for novelty.   One collection in Naturalis was created around 1587 by an unnamed Dutch collector working in what is now Suriname.  It preserves plants native to the area and also African food plants—okra and sesame (Andel et al., 2012).  This indicates that the plantation culture, with the presence of African enslaved persons, had brought with it new species, one of many examples of the early movement of plants with links to the slave trade.  It shows how herbaria can contribute crucial evidence on cultural and political history and can help clarify portions of history that have long remained hidden, including the early pervasiveness of enslaved labor in the Americas.

I have focused on the Leiden treasure room in this post, but in the others in this series I’ll mention herbaria kept in collections throughout Europe.  Some, like part of Felix Platter’s collection in Basel, had been there for hundreds of years but had only been rediscovered in the 1930s.  Others, like Ulisse Aldrovandi’s in Bologna were cared for over the centuries, but still, it wasn’t investigated until recently.  One reason for the increased attention is that there have been efforts to digitized important cultural collections of all kinds, making the 15 volumes of Aldrovandi’s herbarium available to a wider audience and also making it much easier to compare specimens of the same species from different collections, as done in the paper on the history of the tomato. 

To me this is the exciting thing about what could be considered the renaissance of Renaissance herbaria:  allowing careful study without necessarily disturbing the very fragile originals.  I would love to experience the physical heft of En Tibi or see the pages that Rauwolf saw as he, or an assistant, reinforced/decorated them with patterned paper.  However, the very newest of technologies have made these oldest of specimens available to all, even in the age of covid.  The important thing now is to mine these works thoroughly to learn more about plants and botanists in the early modern era. 

References

Andel, T. van. (2017). Open the treasure room and decolonize the museum [Inaugural lecture]. Leiden University. https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/51665.

Andel, T. van, Veldman, S., Maas, P., Thijsse, G., & Eurlings, M. (2012). The forgotten Hermann Herbarium: A 17th century collection of useful plants from Suriname. Taxon, 61(6), 1296–1304. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24389114.

Andel, T. van, Vos, R. A., Michels, E., & Stefanaki, A. (2022). Sixteenth-century tomatoes in Europe: Who saw them, what they looked like, and where they came from. PeerJ, 10, e12790. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.12790.

Ghorbani, A., Wieringa, J. J., de Boer, H. J., Porck, H., Kardinaal, A., & van Andel, T. (2018). Botanical and floristic composition of the Historical Herbarium of Leonhard Rauwolf collected in the Near East (1573-1575). Taxon, 67(3), 565–580. https://doi.org/10.12705/673.7.

Stefanaki, A., Porck, H., Grimaldi, I. M., Thurn, N., Pugliano, V., Kardinaal, A., Salemink, J., Thijsse, G., Chavannes-Mazel, C., Kwakkel, E., & Andel, T. van. (2019). Breaking the silence of the 500-year-old smiling garden of everlasting flowers: The En Tibi book herbarium. PLOS ONE, 14(6), e0217779. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217779.