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The UMaine Herbarium—A Valuable Resource

The University of Maine Herbarium is the most comprehensive collection of plants, fungi, lichens, and mosses in Maine. Records concerning the establishment of the herbarium are unclear, but it is likely that it began when UMaine was created as the Maine College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts. One of the earliest contributors of specimens to the herbarium was Merritt Lyndon Fernald, the son of the third president of UMaine, Merritt Caldwell Fernald. Starting at age 13 Fernald collected plants, and the herbarium now has over 600 of his specimens that he collected throughout his lifetime. Fernald became a world-renowned botanist at Harvard. The Herbarium now houses about 70,000 specimens in Hannibal Hamlin Hall. Information about most of these specimens is also kept in a digital database that anyone can access by visiting the herbarium website (herbaria.umaine.edu).

The purpose of the Herbarium is to document the flora of Maine and to provide a repository for specimens. The Herbarium is also a teaching facility and a resource for the broader community. It is used in at least five biology classes ranging in topics from fungi to the taxonomy of vascular plants. Workers at the Herbarium, such as SBE graduate students Eric Doucette and Garth Holman, and Professor Chris Campbell, identify plants for citizens, farmers, land-trusts, people conducting conservation easements and others. Scientists interested in a group of plants that occurs in Maine can borrow UMaine specimens.

The UMaine Herbarium Friends Group, which meets monthly, focuses on caring for the specimens and usually works on one plant group that is native to Maine during each meeting. The specimens are kept in cases that are airtight. Periodically, the specimens are frozen for one week, which provides a non-toxic alternative to pesticides suppression of insect pests like dermestid beetles that can damage the specimens.

In addition to its primary mission of documenting the flora of Maine, the Herbarium is also used in other areas of research, such as climate change. Data from the timing of the opening of overwintering tree buds on Herbarium specimens, combined with other data, can be used to see if bud-break has shifted over the past 150 years. Scientists can also obtain samples of pollen from herbarium specimens and extract DNA from specimens are over 100 years old. Because of its significance in research, the herbarium is highly valuable to the research community.

The Herbarium is supported by members of the Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine.

The photo shows a University of Maine Herbarium specimen of northern white cedar (also called arborvitae). This conifer tree is common in Maine, often used as an ornamental, and its wood is important for log homes and shingles.  As the label in the lower-right hand corner indicates, this specimen was collected in Lincolnville.  In addition to the leaves, the specimen has cones (about 1 cm long) and a piece of the fibrous bark characteristic of this species.

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