By Gary Krupnick
trea·sure (noun \ˈtre-zhər, ˈtrā-\): 2. something of great worth or value
Just under 5 million specimens are housed in the U.S. National Herbarium, placing it among the world's largest and most important. The plant collections of the Smithsonian Institution began with the acquisition of specimens collected by the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842). These formed the foundation of a national herbarium.
Among the collections are botanical specimens that hold a unique, and rather subjective, value to those who study them. These are some of the treasures of the U.S. National Herbarium. What makes a specimen a treasure? Is it because if its size, age, or rarity? Or perhaps it is due to the circumstances on where, when, or how it was collected.
The staff of the Department of Botany was asked earlier this year to list what they feel are the herbarium treasures—any specimen that is particularly interesting in some respect or aspect. The herbarium has a variety of impressive collections, from the type specimen collection (nearly 110,000 types, including almost 20,000 holotypes) to the 250,000 fern collections, the largest number of these plants in any institution in the Western Hemisphere. Only individual specimens, however, and not collections were considered for this list.
This list of 10 specimens was chosen based on having scientific, taxonomic, aesthetic, representative, historic, and/or cultural value.
The following people contributed to the treasure stories: Barrett Brooks, Carol Kelloff, Nancy Khan, Ingrid Lin, Greg McKee, Rusty Russell, Mary Sangrey, Warren Wagner and several interns.
The 10 Botanical Treasures of the US National Herbarium:
1. Wilkes collection type specimen: holotype of Argyroxiphium macrocephalum (US 59690).
2. Historical collection: Mexican Boundary Survey. Castilleja lanata (US 93751).
3. Lichens as biological monitors: Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (US Barcode 00536547).
4. New Hawaiian species: Hibiscadelphus woodii (US 3313194)
5. Local extirpation: Zizania aquatica (US 2313301)
6. Deepest photosynthetic marine algae: Undescribed species in the order Corallinales (Rhodophyta)
7. New fern species: Hecistopteris kaieteurensis US 33760054).
8. Champion tree: Taxodium distichum (US w42707)
9. World's largest seed: Lodoicea maldivica (US 3609441)
10. New Compositae species: Fulcaldea stuessyi (US 3580444)