State of the Plants

November 6, 2002

Biology professor Robert Holmberg reports on the latest in the Centre for Science – photo provided by The Insider

With the help of Terra Birkigt, this summer we were able to do some maintenance on Athabasca University’s collection of preserved plants. We now have over 2,800 dried specimens that have been mounted, identified and catalogued. These represent 815 species of ferns, conifers, monocots and dicots in about 100 families. In addition, we have nearly 40 species of fungi and lichens.

The specimens are used in our various biology courses and have contributed to the known distribution of rare plants in Alberta. Specimens are also available for identifying unknown species brought in by the general public and for artists who wish to make realistic images.

The herbarium started in 1985 after Athabasca University’s headquarters were moved from Edmonton to Athabasca. In that summer, Dr. Lochan Bakshi (now Emeritus Professor) and Richard Dickinson conducted a botanical survey of Athabasca University’s new lands. (This is documented in Bakshi, T.S and R.G. Holmberg. 1986. A preliminary biological survey of Athabasca University lands. Athabasca University Internal Report. 76 p.; available from AU Library.) Students of BIOL 321: Wild Flowers have added to the collection. Although most specimens are from Athabasca or the Kananaskis area (where BIOL 321 is usually taught), there are specimens from most Canadian provinces and a few US states.

In addition to four standard herbarium cabinets, we also have a cabinet of specimens that were donated to us from a defunct federal government seed lab. The specimens are mainly from the Calgary area and some date back to the 1920’s. Seeds of these plants are likely still viable and could be used in biodiversity studies.

Right now the herbarium cabinets are in storage – awaiting a permanent place. However you can soon check out what is in the collection at the Science Outreach – Athabasca web site (see: under Resources. If anyone is interested in volunteering to help catalogue these specimens, please contact the Science Lab.