The herbarium of Augustana College hosts more than 5,000 specimens of vascular plants, 300 bryophytes and collections of myxomycetes and fossil plants. Most of our vouchers were collected by students in the campus area or the field stations of the college between 1983 and 2012 and were prepared under the supervision of Prof. Bohan Dziadyk. The specimens have not been assessed or databased and the collection needs to be properly curated to become a durable resource serving the study of the local flora and the memory of the college.
Having an active herbarium on campus will boost the possibilities of plant science research. A significant part of current advances in botany is possible thanks to techniques such as DNA profiling, geo-referencing, big data analysis and citizen science initiatives that often rely on natural history collections.
Herbaria are teaching tools as well. One of the most concerning problems of current biology teaching is the lack of contact between students and the natural word, a disconnection that is already understood as a severe impediment to train biologists who are competent at the organismal level. Herbaria have proved to be an invaluable resource to fight this impediment, capable of integrating new technologies with the traditional natural history approach. They can also support simultaneously several courses in different majors, such as Biology or Environmental Studies.
In addition to its value as a research and teaching resource, our herbarium also keeps an interesting episode of the history of the college and the American botany: the Tulen collection. Nels Peter Tulen (1865-1928) was a Swede immigrant that graduated from Augustana College in 1895. During the summer of 1893, he joined Per Axel Rydberg (who would later become the first curator of the NYBG) and became his field assistant during an expedition to the Sandhills region in Nebraska. Tulen was a very diligent student who had received a good botanical training. During the expedition, he collected his own set of specimens, pressed and labelled them meticulously, and brought them back to Rock Island. Up to 67 specimens of the Tulen collection were distributed to 11 herbaria all over the country, but several hundreds are still on campus where they remained during more than 120 years, often in an exquisite preservation state.
Thanks to a grant from the Faculty Research Committee of Augustana College, I am leading a project that will consolidate and database our herbarium and will make it accessible for the college community and beyond. The long term goal is to have a fully functional collection integrated in Index Herbariorum and the Consortium of Midwest Herbaria with a databased and imaged collection. It will be used by faculty and students as a research resource and will host a training program for students interested in natural history collections as a part of their professional development.
The goals for the first year are:
- To assess and arrange all our specimens according to current systematics, re-mounting those whose preservation seems compromised
- To re-mount and restore the Tulen collection
- To setup the imaging station and a system for the databasing the specimens
- To integrate the herbarium in the curriculum and use it to expose the students to plant science
Our herbarium is the result of generations and students and faculty working together towards a common scientific enterprise. If you are a student of Augustana and are interested in our herbarium, contact me. There are multiple ways you can join this project, and the skills you will gain are useful in many biology-related careers.