Word of Caution to Collectors

Dried plant collections of herbaria, in particular, have proved invaluable in botanical research in the past and will continue to do so in the future. They have facilitated quick identifications of plants in emergency situations where children have eaten plants or plant parts suspected of being poisonous, or they have helped pin down specific plants that have caused allergic reactions. Herbaria also have been involved in archaeological research where the uses of plants by past cultures have been determined, and they have been used for teaching purposes at various educational levels. Herbarium specimens have been useful in criminal litigation for both the prosecution and the defense and have been the primary source of information on the distribution of plants with potential for new agricultural and horticultural crops or those with possible medicinal values. Most of the unraveling of problems pertaining to natural relationships of plants begins in a herbarium, and without these plant libraries, increasing our knowledge along many practical and theoretical lines would be severely restricted.

Figure 23.22 Three-dimensional drying. A flower placed in a box is embedded in sand, silica gel, or a borax mixture.

Literally hundreds of plants native to North America are now on rare and endangered species lists, and thousands more are in similar predicaments on other continents. The day has come when both professional and amateur persons interested in plants must discipline themselves to exercise extreme caution in collecting native plants. Collectors should first know what they are collecting or otherwise refrain, and collecting for private collections without serious purpose should be strictly limited. Except for certain types of research, a good photograph of a plant may actually be preferable to a dried specimen and aesthetically more pleasing. It is sincerely hoped that as much as possible, each reader will confine a collection to photographs of native plants. Contact the local plant conservation organizations (e.g., the Nature Conservancy) for information on threatened or endangered plants.


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