The University Record, April 10, 1995
By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services
The University of Michigan Herbarium--one of the most comprehensive and valuable botanical research collections in the United States--may be the best-kept secret on campus. Although the collections are available for study by anyone qualified, inadequate storage space and crowded working conditions have made them less accessible in the past than Herbarium staff would have liked.
But now, thanks to more than $1 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, LS&A and the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Herbarium's facilities in the North University Building have been renovated and upgraded.
About 1.1 million vascular plants (ferns and seed plants) and 600,000 non-vascular plants (lichens, mosses and fungi) are available for study in the Herbarium's collections. It has one of the world's most extensive collections of plants from Michigan and Latin America, especially Mexico. Botanists study the plants to track evolutionary development and how different species are related. The Herbarium also preserves information about the natural plant biodiversity of different regions.
After a plant is collected, it is dried to kill moisture-retaining cells in the plant's stems and leaves. Dried specimens are then glued and sewn to 100 percent rag mounting paper labeled with identifying information. When prepared and stored properly, plants can be preserved for hundreds of years.
The Herbarium has many rare specimens in its archives--including Great Lakes plants collected by Douglas Rose Schoolcraft during one of the first expeditions to find the source of the Mississippi River in the early 1830s, an extensive collection of plants collected from the 1850s in what is now downtown Detroit, and extinct species from the lowland tropics.
For information about access to the Herbarium's plant collections, call Tony Reznicek, 764-5544.