Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Question about False Mermaids

Just in case you holiday time was in jeopardy because you did not know where False Mermaids go when they die, I am coming to the rescue. OK, maybe it was not the first question you had in your head this morning; however, I still have an answer. Almost all of them dry up, fall down, decompose, and turn back into soil like most of us will, one way or another. However; some go on a different journey. Some False Mermaids . . . oh, just in case you don't know any False Mermaids, they are small, wild plants with the Latin name Floerkea proserpinacoides. Any way, some False Mermaid are collected from the field and put into a drying press, usually along with various other plants. The plants will stay in the press until they are quite dry and then be put onto acid free paper with a label and glue carefully applied. Back into another press they go until the glue dries. When they come out of that press, they stop by a computer to have their name and address, etc. put into a data base and finally they will come to me, if they happen to go through this process at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington/Hamilton, Ontario. I add a number to the label from an organizational book that has numbers for almost every plant genus. That number determines where in the files the plants will go.

The RBG (Royal Botanical Gardens) has 33 large file cabinets with about 80 000 plant files so one has to take some care in placing the False Mermaid in the correct place so it can be found again.

The files are colour coded. There is a colour for RBG property plants, for Hamilton/Burlington plants not on RBG property, for Ontario plants not in Hamilton/Burlington, for wild plants in other parts of the world, for garden plants planted at the RBG, and for garden plants planted in other gardens around the world.

Of the 80 000 specimens that are at the RBG Herbarium, some are more than 200 years old and some were put on the shelves yesterday. Some are special plants that were first found and identified at the herbarium. Some are duplicates that are destined to move to other herbariums. Most stay in their files for study by students and others concerned with plant identification, changes in plants, and changes in plant populations in various environments

It has been my privilege, since retiring as an elementary school teacher, to volunteer one half day a week for the last several years in this herbarium where I have learned much more than I ever knew about plants and been of some help to the herbarium and RBG in the process.


Maureen said...

oh, ontariowanderer thank you muchly for your lovely story of the False Mermaid's place betwixt the covers of an herbarium folder, with numbers affixed .... I had no idea that is where False Mermaids go. So now I know and I am glad to have that place in my imagination. Great story. Somehow, your description of the great care with which the plants are catalogued in the herbarium, the numbers of species, the many, many files ... the drawers and cabinets and shelves. I see something like Kafka story in there ... somewhere (and I, not even a Kafka fan!)

so cool you volunteer at the herbarium. Must be an interesting job. I used to feel so privileged to be able to peruse the drawers and cabinets at the University of Washington herbarium when I was there studying landscape architecture (and botany) ... it felt like the repository of lost knowledge. or almost lost ...

Ontario Wanderer said...

Yes, lost to most. We don't have too many visitors but we did have a group of about 25 young children from the 6 Nations reserve last spring as our herbarium keeper was helping some of the natives identify plants as they try to revive some old medicine practices.