[Taxacom] Discarding herbarium specimens

Maarten Christenhusz maachr at utu.fi
Sat Sep 29 08:47:00 CDT 2007

Hi Steve,

My idea about this is that one has to be very careful in discarding specimens. If there is a chance the specimen is cited anywhere it should be kept, no matter the quality of the specimen or the abundance of specimens in the herbarium. There will be many other herbaria that are happy to take specimens which are abundant in your herbarium, but are rare or lacking in a general herbarium in a different part of the world, and this concerns even sterile specimens. They will have many characters that are also worthwhile preserving (e.g. thinking of sterile rain forest trees or juvenile fern collections). Of course if new specimens collected by a student collector come in which are bad, you should be clear about the fact that these specimens are unacceptable and discard the specimens with the students knowledge, so he/she will learn to make better specimens.
In principle if specimens have a good described locality there is a value for studying species distributions. The problem in herbaria is that rare species are overrepresented, so common species should not be blindly discarded, because you already have some old specimens. New specimens may have a great value too.
If a collection is not used scientifically, and has not been so in the past, the discarding of specimens is easier, then when the collection is used by an active team that may cite the specimens in publications. But, if a specimen is pressed well (not all crumbled up or heavily damaged so only twigs and midribs are left), even if it is sterile, you should try to find a place for it, and when you run out of space, or the specimen is useless for your purpose, simply send it somewhere else. There are plenty of herbaria willing to take up well identified sterile specimens, as long as they have good locality data on their labels.
Again something that may be useless in your eyes, may be useful for someone else.

Best wishes,
Maarten Christenhusz
University of Turku, Finland

PS.: for who is interested, I have posted many new plant images on www.botanyphotos.net

----- Original Message -----
From: Steve Manning <sdmanning at asub.edu>
Date: Saturday, September 29, 2007 0:33 am
Subject: [Taxacom] Discarding herbarium specimens

> Hello all,
> Well it's Friday afternoon and I don't have anything better to do 
> so 
> thought I would see if anyone has any inputs on something that has 
> been concerning me for some time: What, if any, is the consensus on 
> appropriate policies for when to discard herbarium specimens?
> This was stimulated by a student worker actually who took it upon 
> himself to discard some specimens he thought were "worthless" or 
> "trash" from our very small, limited herbarium which is used for 
> teaching purposes only at this point.  I thought the 
> appropriateness 
> of that was questionable, not so much based on the quality of the 
> specimens as just that people didn't do that once specimens are 
> either dried awaiting mounting and identification or already 
> mounted 
> but perhaps lacking flowers or fruits.  I was going to tell him so, 
> but then realized that I actually never had heard a discussion of 
> policies on this issue, so didn't make a big issue of it especially 
> as I had just assumed this would not happen so never had said not 
> to 
> do it.  But I would be more comfortable if we could articulate a 
> definite policy in this area based on people's experiences 
> elsewhere.  Most of the specimens are collected by inexperienced 
> students during a once-a-semester General Botany exercise in which 
> they go out grab things and then put them through the process of 
> mounting and depositing in our herbarium cabinets, some with 
> preliminary partial identifications.
> Among the issues I see are:
> (1) Who decides what stays and what goes (a) in general and (b) 
> when 
> space runs out in a herbarium owing to new collections?
> (2) What are the bases for decisions on the above issue?  Personal 
> preference on the part of the herbarium director or curator or 
> someone else?  Objective criteria?  If the latter, what are those 
> criteria?
> (3) How many duplicates of single species (or other taxa) are 
> usually 
> kept and at what point would someone (and who?) say enough is 
> enough, 
> we are no longer accepting specimens of that species?  Or if the 
> new 
> ones are better than some of the older ones would this trigger 
> discarding some earlier ones to make room?
> (4) Does the collector of a specimen retain any rights to a say-so 
> in 
> this matter even if the specimen has been donated to a herbarium 
> but 
> the collector (or someone else), if contacted, may prefer to send 
> it 
> elsewhere than to have it trashed?  (a) if the collector works for 
> the institution where the specimen is and (b) if elsewhere.
> (5) Same question as (4) for specimens old enough that either the 
> collector is dead or cannot be located?  Is there a specimen age 
> old 
> enough that people should not discard things just because of 
> possible 
> antique value or historical interest?
> (6) Should anyone be allowed to throw out duplicates of type 
> specimens, or other specimens of taxa only represented by few 
> collections in a herbarium, under any circumstances?  Even if 
> lacking 
> reproductive structures and thus very hard to identify?
> (7) Is there something like a clearing house for "second hand" 
> specimens that might otherwise be discarded, comparable to eBay 
> except (hopefully) limited to actual herbaria?  I realize that 
> herbaria do exchanges all the time but how often do such exchanges 
> involve specimens that have been around for a long time or are 
> subject to discarding if not exchanged?  My general impression is 
> that those tend to involve relatively recent collections.
> (8) Are there major differences in typical policies on the above 
> issues between herbaria at Universities used mainly for teaching 
> versus those at museums and other institutions that are used mainly 
> for research?
> Thanks for any inputs on any of the above.  I'll probably think of 
> something else after I send this, but the above are the major 
> issues 
> I can think of right now.
> Cheers,
> Steve
> Dr. Steve Manning
> Arkansas State University--Beebe
> Mathematics and Science
> Professor of Biology
> P.O. Box 1000
> Beebe, AR  72012
> Phone: 501-882-8203
> Fax: 501-882-4437
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