Curating the NLU Collection

November 30, 2017

The R. Dale Thomas Collection (NLU) officially completed its journey to BRIT in August 2017. However, this was only the beginning! Follow the NLU rescue team for the next year as they work to make this priceless collection secure and accessible to researchers and the public.

Prior to its move to BRIT, the R. Dale Thomas Collection (NLU) was housed at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The herbarium acronym NLU comes from the University’s previous name—Northeast Louisiana University—when Dr. R. Dale Thomas took the collection from 250 specimens to over 400,000. Today, the NLU herbarium contains an estimated 472,000 specimens of vascular and nonvascular plants collected across the globe. The NLU collection has strengths in Louisiana flora and in the daisy family, Asteraceae.

herbarium before after
Left: The herbarium collection was last housed in the Brown Stadium at University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Right: The collection is now at its new home in the BRIT herbarium.

The 300+-mile journey from Monroe, LA, to Fort Worth, TX, took place over two trips. Cabinets were packed into moving trucks registering temperatures of -29 degrees Celsius. Brrr! Now the 336 cabinets are securely located on BRIT’s second floor herbarium, ready to be explored. 

Now that the collection (NLU) is at BRIT, herbarium staff and volunteers are charged with ensuring the security of the herbarium specimens and their accessibility. But what exactly is security? Herbarium specimens are vulnerable to a host of threats—water, insects, and light to name a few—so we must minimize their susceptibility through proper storage techniques. Herbarium specimens are kept in securely sealed metal cabinets at 64 degrees F and 50% relative humidity. Securing the collection from further damage is our first task.

herbarium seal
Herbarium seals border the inside perimeter of herbarium cabinets. They lock out potential pests, dust, or water that could enter the cabinets even after the door is closed. However, like anything else, the seals degrade over time. We are currently replacing around one-third of the seals in the NLU herbarium to maximize the security. Through trial and error, we have finally found techniques to remove the deteriorating foam and adhesive.
herbarium beetle
Herbarium beetle on NLU collection. They may be small, but these insects can pose a large problem! These tiny, light red-brown beetles are most damaging as larvae. Lasioderma sp. feed on dried plant material and paper products. Although the extremely cold moving conditions killed these beetles, we are recording any beetle evidence we find in the collection and keeping an eye out for any live insects.

Get involved!

volunteers
NLU Collection Kickoff Week, October 30 through November 4. Fifteen volunteers mounted exchange specimens collected in the Southeastern US and Poland.
volunteers
The November 1st Volunteer Day hosted 14 volunteers who cleaned cabinets, removed labels and tape, and re-spaced folders from the summer move. Our volunteers are the best!

 

NLU specimens
You never know what treasures you’ll find in the herbarium!
Left: Liatris elegans collected in Louisiana’s Bossier Parish by R. Dale Thomas and Vernon Leggett in 1975. This was Dr. Thomas’ 47,731st collection!
Right: The parasitic flowering plant Hydnora abyssinica, collected in the Sudanese province of Khartoum by Lytton J. Musselman in 1984.

If you’d like to learn more or be involved in saving this priceless scientific resource, contact the NLU Collections Assistants, Miranda (mmadrid@brit.org) or Ashley (abordelon@brit.org). And stay tuned for more updates from the BRIT-NLU team!

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