EBTS UK has been collecting donations to fund the 5 herbarium archive boxes that are needed by the RHS Herbarium to store the current and future Buxus samples. Thanks to the generosity of our members and online supporters, the target of £1,500 needed for the boxes has been achieved. This means that when the existing samples are moved to their new home in the brand new National Centre for Horticultural Science and Learning at RHS Wisley, they will be stored in strong archival boxes designed for the purpose, rather than being kept in a variety of folders as at present.
What is a Herbarium for?
A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens, which are used for scientific study. Most specimens in a herbarium are pressed, dried plants. These pressed specimens are mounted on sheets of card and stored in flat folders in banks of cupboards following a logical sequence for easy referral.
This sequence can either be arranged alphabetically, like an index, or by similarity, placing those plants that are most closely related beside each other.
Other specimens may be dried large fruiting bodies, pieces of wood or bark, seeds or material stored in spirit to preserve more delicate three-dimensional structures. A herbarium also keeps document records about the specimens – where, when and by whom they were collected.
Herbaria are used by botanists for the identification and classification of plants. They preserve most of the important features of a plant, allowing botanists to carry out research on the plants without needing to see a living specimen. As the plant is usually preserved when flowering or fruiting, the botanists can examine the most important features irrespective of the time of the year.
They also provide a historical record of what was growing in a particular place at a particular time. Many historic collections in herbaria now record plants long since lost from the locality from which they were collected. For cultivated plants, these records will give a latest date for when a particular plant was first grown.
Royal Horticultural Society
The RHS Wisley Herbarium holds over 86,000 dried specimens and is one of only a few in the world that specialise in cultivated plants. The oldest specimen in the herbarium is a lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) collected in 1731. This was donated by Rev George Henslow, RHS Professor of Botany between 1880 and 1918, along with the rest of his herbarium. It’s part of the largest herbarium of its kind in the UK having been started around 1917, the original collection having been auctioned off in 1856 to help relieve the Society’s debts.
Current conditions for the collection are basic, as they are housed in part of the old the RHS Laboratory building which is in need of some TLC, which it will get once the new Science building is opened in 2020. At present the herbarium is stored on overloaded fixed shelving in rooms that have suffered from water leaks and are not climate controlled, neither of which is good for a collection of this importance.
When the collection is moved, it will be re-housed in a climate controlled (temperature and humidity) store room with roller racking and samples stored in the new blue archival boxes. The new boxes will make it easier and safer to extract samples that are requested by researchers. As part of the move, prior to being placed in the boxes, all the samples will be subjected to a heat treatment to kill off any bugs that might have got into the files. The new store room will allow the collection to expand and with quicker and easier access to the samples.
If you are interested in how to press your own samples or want to send samples to the RHS, then take a look at the links below.