As snow begins to descend on Anchorage, our SOS focus has returned to the herbarium. We’ve gotten to visit many spectacular places around the state and now it’s time to process the data. While that includes the curation of excel spreadsheets and confirming digital records with our field notes, it also includes managing the voucher specimens.
A voucher specimen is like a cross between a library book and a museum archive: they hold a wealth of information for the public about a specific time and place. At each site, we took plants for identification purposes. Back at the camp, these plants were identified then pressed and dried. In the herbarium, we take these voucher specimens, assign it a herbarium accession number that references information collected about the specimen– such as where it was found, what other species were there, and when it was taken—and then we mount the specimen. Mounting is a process of affixing the specimen permanently to a thick, herbarium sheet. We use special glue that won’t discolor the specimen, but the Smithsonian herbarium sews the specimen to the sheet.
All voucher specimens need a label. This label is the condensed version of the numerous notes taken in the field and kept in the herbarium digital records. It has the most currently accepted scientific name, who collected the specimen, and a brief summary of location and habitat information. This helps researchers and herbarium keepers answer questions while looking through specimens, and was the best way to keep quick access records before the rise of digital archival software.
No voucher specimen would be complete without a rubber stamp of the official herbarium seal and accession number. This is the number that connects the specimen to the digital archive. Before the specimen can be stamped, it has to be completely dry – the plant, the glue, and the ink from the label. But once it’s stamped, it can join the ever-growing herbarium collection.
If you’re wondering why herbarium specimens are important to research, I recommend you read this article.
I would like to take a moment and thank the wonderful people of the UAA herbarium who have been so supportive and open in teaching me the ways of the herbarium: Justin Fulkerson, Matt Carlson, Tim, and Bonnie. Thank you for creating such a lively and welcoming office.