The Herbarium is literally a plant museum. It contains a collection of dried and pressed plant specimens. Our students are using the Herbarium to aid them in plant identification and the study of the geographic distribution of plants. The herbarium can provide a record of change in the vegetation of our area. It will serve as a reference for nomenclature and the writing of field guides or manuals. It holds voucher specimens, representative samples of plants used in research to authenticate the sources of data and chromosome counts and molecular data.
Most of the specimens in this herbarium were originally part of the Syracuse University Herbarium. SUNY Oswego acquired them when Syracuse decided to dispose of its herbarium, sometime in the mid 1970’s. There are some significantly older (early 1800’s) specimens in the collection. The specimens were stored in old cabinets in the basement of Piez Hall for nearly forty years after they arrived in Oswego. Now that we have space for the herbarium in Shineman center, we are sorting through the specimens, repairing damage experienced through the years of storage, checking identifications, and bringing nomenclature up to date with current practice in the field. The specimens will then be filed in our new cabinets according to an alphabetical system designed for easy retrieval.
In addition to plant specimens, herbaria sometimes contain items more valuable as historical curiosities than as current scientific records. Notebooks that were found with the materials from Syracuse illustrate the practice of students and of travelers interested in natural history in times gone by to keep a tangible record of plants seen during their excursions. In 1938, Mrs. J. W. Beardsley of Syracuse donated a portfolio of specimens, mostly ferns, she had collected as a young girl in Jamaica in the 1870’s. Dr. William L. Bray accepted and acknowledged this donation. Among the materials we received were two small books contain specimens collected on a trip to Wales and Scotland in 1913. Amanda H. Whittlesey of St. Mary’s Hall in Burlington, N.J, may have been a student at the time she assembled the collection in an undated book. The specimen of the Common Elderberry notated as “Pentandria Triagynia” refers to the class that included this plant in the Linnaean system of classification in use primarily between its publication in 1753 and the mid 1800’s. It is anticipated that the herbarium will contribute positively and add a new breadth to teaching plant biology at SUNY Oswego.
There are also a large number of unmounted specimens collected by Mildred Faust, a botanist on the Syracuse faculty from 1926 into the 1960’s, and others. Many of these have little or no data on location and other details usually recorded at the time of collection. They thus may have limited value as herbarium records. However, all must be reviewed before a decision can be made regarding their disposition, as some may be of historical significance. Dr. Andrew Nelson, an emeritus professor of biology and previous director of Rice Creek Field Station, is working continuously to bring this collection up to date. In addition to the Syracuse specimens we added our own collection of plants from the local area and other plant specimens we received as donations from other herbaria. In general these plant specimens represent wide geographical areas and different world regions. We estimate the number of specimens we have at 51,000 specimens. We will have better idea when the work is completed.