Herbarium and Its Uses

IMG 6466A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens of whole plants or plant parts. The specimens are usually in a dried form, mounted on a sheet, but depending upon the material, may also be kept in alcohol or other preservative. Normally, the specimens include reproductive parts, such as flowers or fruits, which are often necessary for positive identification. Information describing the collection site (i.e. country, state and specific location), habitat, date of collection, name and serial collection number of collector and other pertinent facts, such as plant habit or flower colour are recorded in a field notebook at the time of collection. This information is later transcribed onto a permanent specimen label that is mounted on the herbarium sheet with the specimen.
Once dried, specimens are identified, sorted, labelled, mounted onto stiff sheets of high-quality paper, re-sorted systematically and filed for storage in steel or wooden herbarium cases. Herbarium specimens will last indefinitely if properly prepared and cared for. The major hazards that should be avoided are insects and water. Insect pests are controlled by freezing specimens and placing insect repellent in herbarium cases. In order to prevent infestations of damaging insect and fungal pests, climate in the herbarium should be hostile to such organisms. Thus, temperature should be maintained below 21 °C and the relative humidity between 30 - 40%.
The term “herbarium” can also refer to the building where the specimens are stored, or the scientific institute that not only stores but also carries out research on these specimens. A herbarium is analogous to a library of carefully preserved plants where the specimens themselves and the labels associated with them provide a wealth of information. In other words, it serves as a reference center, a documentation facility and data storehouse and, hence, has historical, research, teaching, informational, educational, cultural and economic values.
Each specimen is unique and irreplaceable, representing a particular plant from a particular location collected at a particular time. Specimens housed in herbaria may be used to identify or catalogue the flora of an area. A large collection from a single area is used in writing a field guide or manual to aid in the identification of plants that grow there. With more specimens available, the author of the guide will better understand the variability of form in the plants and the natural distribution over which the plants grow. Herbaria also preserve historical record of change in vegetation over time. In some cases, plants become extinct in one area, or may become extinct altogether. In such cases, specimens preserved in a herbarium can represent the only record of the original distribution of the plant. Environmental scientists make use of such data to track changes in climate and human impact. Herbaria have also proven very useful as sources of plant DNA for use in taxonomy and molecular systematics. They may also be a repository of viable seeds for rare species.
Herbaria are used by scientists, students, gardeners, amateur botanists, businesses, museums, botanical gardens, and governmental and non-government organizations to further their understanding of the plant world, its diversity as well as its ecological, socio-economic and cultural importance. They are useful as references for plant identification and determination of plant locations and ranges, abundance, habitat and phenology (flowering and fruiting periods). They are used for studies in which the differences between plant species are evaluated and described (monographs) or in which the species growing in a region are reported (floras). The core research emphasis of staff members in herbaria is plant systematics, which has four main areas, namely: (i) classification - placement of a plant in a logically organized scheme of relationships; (ii) identification - determining whether an unknown plant belongs to a known, named group of plants; and (iii) nomenclature - assigning scientific name to a plant; and (iv) phylogeny – arranging a plant into a group based on its evolutionary relationship. The results of plant systematic research help us to better understand plant identities and relationships. Herbarium specimens are also useful in many other disciplines.
Examples of other uses include: (i) agronomy and forestry - locate wild plants that have potential as new crops; document plants used as crops and forage; locate and identify relatives of cultivated species for use in breeding programs; and identify and document the spread of weeds; (ii) anthropology/archeology and ethnobotany - identify seed, wood and other plant remains from archeological sites; and document plants used by people; (iii) ecology - locate and document plant communities or individual species; and identify and document invasive species; (iv) entomology - locate food plants and habitats for insects; and document pollination ecology; (v) environmental regulation - identify plants in an area in order to define the habitat and designate an environmentally and legally appropriate use for the site; (vi) forensics - identify plant fragments that might yield evidence in legal cases; and in some cases, plant fragments may be used to determine if a person was in a certain place; (vi) history - retrace itineraries of early naturalists; track down early place names; and determine historic plant ranges; (vii) horticulture - identify native and cultivated plants; find plant locations; and document cultivars; (viii) pharmaceutical research - locate wild plants as possible source of medicines; (ix) poison control and medical care - identify plants in cases of ingestion; (x) veterinary science - identify forage and poisonous plants; and (xi) zoology - identify animal food plants; and locate animal habitats.

Please publish modules in offcanvas position.