Connected \\ November 29, 2017
19th century herbarium bears fruit
During my recent sabbatical, I began a study of the herbarium at PEM to understand how the area's flora has been transformed over the centuries, and whether and how those changes are related to changes in our climate. The PEM herbarium comprises approximately 8,000 labeled plant specimens, pressed and mounted on paper, collected mainly in 19th century Essex County. These include flowering plants, pines, ferns and related species. Mosses and algae are also found in the collection.
Dr. Delissio leads a workshop at PEM for teachers on the topic of art/science integration.
In the mid- to late-1800s, the study of natural history was a popular and serious amateur pursuit in New England. Natural history clubs were common, and amateur botany was so widely practiced that in towns across the region one could find shops selling the materials needed to press and dry plants.
A type specimen of Marginal Shield Fern collected by John Robinson. As a type specimen, this organism was the exact one used when the species was first formally described. © 2016 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Allison White
Dated specimens allow us to observe differences in the timing of events like leaf out, flowering and leaf-drop over many decades and can show shifting seasons – earlier springs or autumns that extend into what used to be winter. My research students deeply appreciate the wealth of scientific information represented by each labeled specimen, as well as the intersection of science, art, and history demonstrated by the collection as a whole.