Visit any major botanical research institute today and you’ll find a herbarium, or collection of preserved plant specimens. These specimens are used to identify plants, to track where and when particular plants grow, and to help understand how plants are influenced by climate change and other environmental factors.
Formal herbaria have been around for about five hundred years. The first recorded herbarium was created by Italian physician and botanist Luca Ghini in the early 1500s. Called a Hortus Siccus, or “dry garden”, the herbarium was populated by drying plants under pressure between pieces of paper and then mounting the specimens for study. Today, herbaria are integral to botanical research.
Dr. Maura Flannery, Professor Emerita of Biology at St. John’s University in New York and a Research Associate in the A.C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina – Columbia, studies the complex history of herbaria, their many uses, their digital future, and relationships between herbaria and botanical art. While she has been studying biology and its links to art over most of her career, Flannery’s interest in herbaria emerged about ten years ago.