April 21, 2010

A Visit to the Herbarium

If you follow the Burke Museum’s blog regularly, you probably read the recent blog about my trip to the Burke’s Fisheries collection. Last week, I went on another behind the scenes tour to the Burke’s Herbarium.

The Herbarium has approximately 625,000 specimens that range from vascular plants, lichen, algae, mosses and fungi. The Burke Museum’s Herbarium has a primary focus of the flora of the Pacific Northwest. An average of 700 people from all over the world visit the Herbarium each year to access its unique collections, and the research involving these specimens can help answer important questions that affect us all.

Botany Curator Richard Olmstead holding algae specimens

What are a few of the many ways we can learn from herbia specimens? Burke Curator of Botany Richard Olmstead and Herbarium Collections Manager David Giblin analyze specimens collected over time to compare changes in floral life from natural disasters, human impact and climate change. From 2005 – 2009, David led a series of botanical surveys (i.e. collecting trips) in the San Juan Islands to create a baseline understanding of the plant diversity found on small islands throughout the archipelago. Plant life in coastal areas may be severely impacted under various climate change scenarios, and the findings from these trips can serve as a benchmark against which future changes can be compared.

David’s team of students, volunteers and fellow scientists visited approximately 90 islands in the San Juans, and one of the highlights was the discovering a previously undescribed species of paintbrush. The years of hard work from Burke Museum staff and community members can help future generations address the world’s changing environments."

Photo 2: a map of forays that the Burke Museum Herbarium has conducted since Herbarium staff started the forays in 1996. The Burke Museum partners with many different organizations to conduct these collecting trips. Here is a key to the different colors of thumbtack that represent these different types of forays:
-Red: University of Washington forays
-White: National Park Service forays
-Blue: Cedar River Watershed forays
-Green: General collecting trips

Posted By: Andrea Barber, Communications