Verizon Eminent Scholar Lecture Cancelled
TWU Faculty Restore Herbarium
DENTON — Biologists at Texas Woman’s University are making new
— or rather, old — discoveries every day as they refurbish the university’s
Essentially left untouched for more than a half-century, Dr. Camelia Maier,
assistant professor of biology, and biology laboratory instructor Reta Smiddy
Foreman are carefully inventorying and sorting herbarium specimens. The process
will take about two years. But when it’s complete, botanists will have
a window into the early 20th century in Texas.
“The earliest specimens date to 1903 and latest come from the late 1940s,”
said Dr. Maier. “Approximately three-quarters of the specimens were collected
in Tarrant, Denton, Travis and Brewster counties.” The collections also
includes 12 flats of flowering plants from Iceland, as well as plants from Long
Island, Michigan, Mexico, Scotland and Jamaica.
The herbarium was started shortly after Texas Woman’s University (then
called the Girls Industrial College) was established by the Texas Legislature
in 1901. Contributors to the collection included professors, students and recognized
private collectors, such as Albert Ruth from the Lake Worth area, Travis County’s
B.C. Tharp and Barton C. Warnock of the Big Bend region. Mary S. Young, one
of the first recognized Texas female botanists, also contributed to TWU’s
But in the late 1940s, additions to the collection stopped. “We can only
speculate why,” said Ms. Foreman.
“During the war years, herbarium paper was more difficult to acquire.
And also about that time, professors who were involved with the project retired.”
Without a curator, nothing happened with the herbarium. The last plant specimen
was added to the collection in 1947.
During the remodeling of the old science building in 1976, Ms. Foreman discovered
two large metal cases tucked into an unused closet. The contents of the cases
were the herbarium.
“The cases were tagged and moved to an old dorm for storage until the
renovation was completed in 1978,” said Ms. Foreman. After the renovation,
the cases were returned to the old science building. But, again, the herbarium
sat almost untouched for another 20 years.
A public exhibit of some of the specimens was held in 2001 for TWU’s centennial,
about the time Dr. Maier and Ms. Foreman undertook the project of restoring
the herbarium. Financial contributions from the Native Plant Society-Trinity
Forks Chapter and the TWU Department of Biology have helped with the restoration
Still, Dr. Maier estimates, it will take another two years to complete restoration
of the herbarium.
Given their age, the specimens are fragile and require careful handling. Some
require remounting, and others require re-identification. “They used the
old nomenclature when the specimens were collected,” Dr. Maier said. The
Botanical Research Institute and Native Plant Society have been helpful in re-identifying
many of the plants, she said.
Many specimens have yet to be identified and cataloged. Numerous specimens
— most likely collected by students — lay sandwiched between newspaper
pages from the 1930s and 1940s, waiting to be mounted and cataloged. Notes scribbled
on the newspaper margins indicate when and from where the plants were taken.
“We have several endangered species in the collection. We may even have
extinct plant species,” added Dr. Maier.
Aside from cataloging the plants, Dr. Maier and Ms. Foreman also are collecting
information on the collectors. Many, such as Mr. Ruth and Dr. Young, are well
known. Others are a mystery because only initials or partial names are recorded
with the specimen.
“I’d love to meet some of the ladies who added to the collection
while they were students here,” said Ms. Foreman. Some of those former
students apparently continued to submit plants to the collection after they
left the university.
Once the restoration project is complete, TWU plans to make the herbarium available
to researchers through specimen loans and an online database. New specimens
will be added to the 800-piece collection at that time, too.
Dr. Susan Burke, an assistant visiting professor of library science, already
has offered to donate some of her collection to TWU. “I collect lichens,”
said Dr. Burke. “I plan to give them some of mine — predominately
ones I collected around this area.”
Persons interested in getting a peek at the collection can visit TWU’s
Blagg-Huey Library, located off Bell Avenue and Administration Drive. Several
specimens are on display on the library’s ground floor.
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