Herbariums – The Art and Science of Seaweed Collecting

 

Herbariums – The Art and Science of Seaweed Collecting

An herbarium is collection of dried plants for scientific study. Women seaweed hunters like Margaret Gatty, walked the beaches in Victorian England collecting specimens for their seaweed scrapbooks.

Margaret Gatty (1809-1873), a British children’s book author, became fascinated with marine biology and started collecting seaweeds in 1848 when she spent some months at England’s southeast coast town of Hastings.

She built up a large herbarium of her own collections, supplemented by local and foreign specimens sent to her by biological scientists, phycologists,  who  specialized in the study of algae and phytoplankton, a sub-discipline of botany.

By 1863, she had become quite an expert on seaweed, an unthinkable field of expertise for a woman back in the day. Margaret Gatty published a two-volume book on British seaweeds.

Seaweed Collectors Guide by John Cocks
Seaweed Collectors Guide by John Cocks

More than 8,825 specimens and 500 plates belonging to the Margaret Gatty herbarium have now been found in St Andrews University Herbarium (STA). Some 4,250 specimens in the collection are still mounted in the original albums, approximately 2,975 specimens were kept in folders or in unsorted stacks or packages.

Here in the U.S., The New York Botanical Garden is one of the top four herbariums in the world. The Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden has 7.3 million seaweed specimens. (see video)

One specimen was collected by Charles Darwin. Another was collected by Captain James Cook. Cook took an expedition voyage, commissioned by King George III,  aboard HMS Endeavour, from 1768 to 1771. The HMS Endeavour crossed the Atlantic and rounded Cape Horn, Africa.

Other notable herbariums are Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France; Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew , England; Komarov Botanical Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia and United States National Herbarium in Washington, DC.