By definition, a herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens for scientific studies. But few people know the University has one tucked away on the ground floor of the Biological Sciences building.
Its 75 metal cabinets are filled with over 105,000 specimens. Boxes containing hundreds more waiting to be catalogued are stacked on shelves around the perimeter.
The herbarium’s entire collection consists of approximately 92,000 vascular specimens (land plants with tissues that conduct water and minerals) and another 12,000 non-vascular (plants like mosses, algae and fungi). About 70 percent of the Department of Biological Sciences collection is focused on plants on western North America. Side collections include cones, seeds and different types of woods.
Inside the herbarium, the first thing a visitor notices in the large cross-section of a Douglas fir tree trunk. Thirty-four years ago, when Bonnie Smith started her job as the herbarium’s technician, one of her first tasks was to label the rings with historical events and years going back to 1585 when John Davis explored the Northwest Passage and the tree was a seedling. The last ring on the trunk – next to the outer layer of bark – is 1965, a year before the University of Calgary came into being.
Over its 54-year history, the herbarium has had four directors: (past to present) Dr. Charles Bird, Dr. Robert T. Ogilvie, Dr. C.C. Chinnappa and Dr. Jana Vamosi.
Did you know?
Once a month, the herbarium hosts meetings for the Southern Alberta Plant Study group, which is part of the Alberta Native Plant Council. This is an opportunity for botanists and consultants to meet and discuss topics of interest.