Cabinet Curiosities

Our "Cabinet Curiosities” series explores significant items in our Herbarium collection. Posts are written by staff, volunteers, and interns.

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Muir, Muir...In Our Halls

It was 1875, and John Muir was a busy man. He was already well-known for his journeys through central and northern California. His writing was published in newspapers and magazines around the country. But he still had time to help someone else. Portrait of John Muir in about 1880 (Credit: Taber and Boyd, Wikimedia) A colleague, John Redfield, wrote to Muir asking for specimens to add to his collection. John Muir wrote back in May of 1875 and promised to collect in a few weeks. True to his word, Muir collected plant specimens in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and sent them to Redfield for study later that year. They continued to correspond about the collections and other scientific pursuits for the next few years. Dryopteris arguta specimen collected in California by John Muir in 1875 Joh...
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Ferns & Lycophytes of the BRIT Herbarium

Ferns and lycophyte specimens in the BRIT herbarium. Many herbaria in the world are represented by curators and research communities that are very familiar with the character and content of their collections, but very few of these have access to accurate numbers and specimen inventories. Digitization funding is a game changer that will provide us with the means to better preserve the collections we hold in public trust. A digitized specimen is a tool that allows access to scientific vouchers and observations that span hundreds of years – an essential component to research that deals with past environmental change and future models. The Philecology Herbarium at the Botanical Research Institute is one of 36 herbaria and museums throughout the U.S. representing the Pteridopytes Collections Co...
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(En)TADA! The herbarium holds specimens of the LONGEST legumes in the world

The BRIT Philecology Herbarium is composed of a melting pot of several orphaned collections across the south and southeast. In addition to those large collections, we also receive specimens through active exchange programs with more than one hundred herbaria across the world. Each of our large collections - BRIT/SMU (Southern Methodist University), VDB (Vanderbilt), and NLU (University of Louisiana at Monroe) - complete one another by filling in geographical and taxonomic gaps of their holdings. Sea hearts ( Entada) These heart-shaped seeds were found in a wood collection acquired from Houston Public Museum. The seeds come from plants in the genus Entada in the legume family (Fabaceae). These plants are typically woody vines, or lianas, that establish themselves along beaches and rivers. T...
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Rows (and Rose) of Wood!

The BRIT herbarium has acquired a unique collection of wood specimens (a xylarium) that curators have been organizing over the past few months to make it accessible to researchers and the public. These specimens come in all shapes, cuts, sizes, and varieties of woody plants from across the world! Seven of these specimens that bore no labels or data were brought to curators’ attention and were a complete mystery until more investigating and research was done. The mystery specimens were uncovered to be host roots for Dactylanthus taylorrii – a fully flowering parasitic plant found only in New Zealand. This “wood rose” attaches itself to the roots of trees and shrubs and warps the bark into a rose-like appearance. Read more about the xylarium and this curious specimen...
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Holiday Botany: Mistletoe

Mistletoe brings to mind a be-ribboned bouquet hung beneath doorways to catch unsuspecting party-goers in a kissing trap, but the evergreen plant has a long history in Western holiday tradition. The original mistletoe of Greek and Celtic traditions, Viscum album , was a symbol of masculinity, vitality, health, and fertility, and its usage as a treatment for barrenness in human and animals is reportedly very ancient. The majority of mistletoes are obligate hemi-parasites, meaning they cannot live without a host but do engage in some photosynthesis with their foliage. The connection between mistletoe and the Winter Solstice was likely made as the species remains evergreen and bears fruit throughout winter, creating festive decoration is the coldest of winter wonderlands. Depiction of a Druid...
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Holiday Botany: Poinsettia

The poinsettia is a quintessential part of typical holiday decor. Its bright red, burgundy, or white foliage are common sights in locations both private and public throughout the winter months, from apartment balconies and church altars to bank lobbies and coffeehouses.
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Cabinet Curiosities: The New Zealand Kauri

Our "Cabinet Curiosities" series explores significant items in our Herbarium collection. This article was written by Haley Rylander, Research and Herbarium Assistant. The New Zealand Kauri – Agathis australis – is a truly magnificent tree, revered in New Zealand by the native Maori and Europeans alike. The Kauri’s ancestors lived over 130 million years ago – making it one of the most ancient trees in the world! And the gargantuan trees can reach heights of over 160 feet tall and a diameter of over 66 feet across. The ancient Maori (native people of New Zealand) used Kauri wood to build boats, make carvings, weapons, and jewelry, and to build houses and public structures. The gum was used for many purposes as well, and the felling of one of these magnificent giants was usually accompanied b...
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Botanical Specimens with a Mysterious Past!

“Wow!” is the most frequent comment from visitors viewing the two oldest plant specimens in the BRIT Herbarium, both of which were collected by Dr. Thaddeus Haenke in 1791.
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