From Plant Press, Vol. 19, No. 2, April 2016.
The Department of Botany is pleased to announce the opening of the new display, Botany in a New Era of Discovery. The display is found at the entrance of the U.S. National Herbarium, near the public space on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History.
As habitats disappear at alarming rates, discovery of the remaining undescribed species on Earth has taken on a new sense of urgency. Although scientists continue their field expeditions to remote locations, many new species are discovered among the collections of preserved specimens in natural history museums. These specimens were collected decades ago, and sat waiting to be prepared, examined, and described. Other species have been well-known to local communities and indigenous groups who have given them unique names in their native language and have traded them in the marketplace, yet have never been described scientifically by taxonomists. Molecular genetics has shown that a single widely distributed species may in fact be a group of identical-looking yet distinct species.
In Botany in a New Era of Discovery the museum’s scientific collections play a starring role. Presented in the display are four case studies. One case displays the quillwort Isoëtes viridimontana, in which DNA sequencing confirmed the new species as well as its evolutionary relationship to other species of Isoëtes. A highlight of this narrative is the large-scale 3-D models of the distinctly textured megaspores which were imaged by microscopy interns, Leah Greenstein and Leena Loo. The Weeping Goldsmith, Globba sherwoodiana, which was discovered being sold in a marketplace in Myanmar, is the focus of another case. One panel illustrates one of the smallest sedges yet to be discovered, Eleocharis cryptica, which was found during a collecting trip to western Mexico. The final panel showcases Allophylastrum frutescens, identified after close examination of a specimen collected from Guyana more than 100 years ago.