insecticides used in herbaria

Gayle gaylehansen at HARBORSIDE.COM
Wed Feb 2 08:50:04 CST 2005

Dear Taxacom members,

I have been going through old herbarium specimens (circa 1800's) borrowed from some prominent old herbaria.  Some of the specimens (algal) are coated with a black powdery substance and the paper is browned and disintegrating.  When I first pulled the specimens from their cabinets (some that hadn't been opened in many years), the toxic smell in the cabinets was pretty overwhelming.  Now that the specimens have been in boxes outside the cabinets, they no longer smell but some still have this powdery substance on them.  

My question is:  What insecticides have been used by herbaria in the past?  Can people be affected by these toxins by smelling or touching them?  Do these toxins break down in time so that older herbarium specimens are safe?  If they are toxic, are there antidotes or safety measures for looking at these specimens?


Gayle Hansen
Hatfield Marine Science Center
Newport, Oregon

gayle.hansen at

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