Tuesday 25 September – Second Day in the Botany Department at the NHM

Figure 1: This plant has recently been out on loan and identfied as Bulbophyllum caudatum: one of the reasons why plants are loaned is to have them determined (identified). This orchid now needs to go back in its correct folder.

Tuesday began with Jonathan showing me the process that happens for new acquisitions or objects that have come back from loan.  The initial step, which is also the same for objects being moved from the Cryptogamic department to DC2 (Darwin Centre 2), is that the objects are frozen for 3 days at -30°C.  Once this is completed, new objects are sorted ready for ‘laying out’ (something I would experience with Ranee later in the day- see below).  Once they have been laid out they are then mounted (see Wednesday’s blog post) and ready to be accessioned.  They are given a barcode and unique number, and this is inputted, alongside other things such as provenance data, onto KE-EMu.  The specimens can now join objects returned from loan in being filed ready for ‘laying in’ (which I would also experience later in the day!); the information about a loan being returned also being inputted onto KE-EMu.  Jonathan produced a diagram that explained the whole process in the clearest possible terms, and I left with a good general background of some of the routines carried out by the curatorial team.

As promised, later in the morning Ranee showed me how to lay out a specimen ready for mounting.  There is more to this than meets the eye; you need to display important diagnostic characters such as flowers, fruits and both sides of the leaf.  Sometimes the most aesthetically pleasing sample of the plant may have to be ignored if it does not display the correct characters, but thankfully in most cases it seems to correlate.  If any spare material is left it can either be put in a capsule (small envelope) and attached to the sheet for sampling purposes.  A capsule can also be used to contain fruits and other things that may be missing from the specimen on the sheet.  Sometimes there was more than one specimen collected and these can be offered to other institutions.  We were also discussing the characteristic features of major plant families as we worked, which is something that I was keen to improve during my week.

The laying out took place under the full glare of the museum’s visitors (see Day Three: Botany blog post), which can be a bit disconcerting at times!

Figure 2: This plant has been determined as Liparis Pygmaea; which is good news considering it’s the type specimen for this species!

In the afternoon, Edgley demonstrated the process of laying in.  After mounting or a retuned loan, the sheets for the general flowering plants are put in special cupboards with separate shelves according to their  APG III classification number.  They are then ready to be laid away in the correct part of the DC2 herbarium.  I selected some orchids and began the process of laying in.  The first step is to check the bottom left hand corner of the paper as this usually has the number pertaining to the family and genus that the sheet belongs to.  This should have been checked before initial filing but mistakes do happen so it is important to check it matches with the numbers in the APG III catalogue before filing away.  Laying specimens away correctly is very important as it is filed away incorrectly it is effectively ‘lost’ and unlikely to be rediscovered.  All sheets within the general herbarium for each family are arranged geographically.  Then within these geographic divisions the genus’s can either be arranged systematically (i.e. APG III), or alphabetically.  Sometimes a key (usually within the first genus folder) is needed to find the correct location.  Once this has been found, the sheet can be filed away, following all the correct handling protocols discussed with Jovita on Monday.

The process takes longer than expected, and some genus’s can be particularly difficult to locate (e.g. sometimes European plant genus’s could be arranged alphabetically; not following any key!)  But I felt like I was getting the hang of it by the end of the day.  I know it’s sad but I actually found it quite fun!  Almost like a grown-up treasure hunt with no chance of discovering any riches!

I spent the rest of the evening reflecting upon the ‘botanical riches’ I would discover tomorrow and how there would definitely be more pictures in my next blog post!


About Trainee Curator

I will be writing a blog about the next twelve months spent as a trainee biological curator based at Manchester Museum.
This entry was posted in Trainee's diary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tuesday 25 September – Second Day in the Botany Department at the NHM

  1. Dina Newton-Edwards says:


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