Highlights of the Herbarium, Thursday 6 February 2020 - written by Jean Stewart 

Dr Heleen Plaisier is Honorary Curator of the Herbarium at St Andrews Botanic Garden. On our most recent Garden Walk with a Focus in February, she gave a demonstration of some ‘Highlights of the Herbarium’ by laying out some particularly fascinating specimens from the many specimens, probably about 60,000, in the collection. Many of the specimens are well over 100 years old and it is extraordinary how relatively fresh some of them appear.

The herbarium houses an excellent collection of at least 8,000 preserved seaweeds, sourced and preserved mainly by Mrs Margaret Gatty, a redoubtable Victorian lady who developed an interest in seaweeds when recovering, at the seaside, from a medical condition. Heleen has made a special study of Mrs Gatty who became an expert in British seaweeds and received many specimens from other scientists. Other seaweed collectors who are represented in the collection include Charles Howie, better known for his moss collection, James Jack and the Reverend David Landsborough.

The display also included examples from the pressed flower collection made by local resident, Berit Owen, when a schoolgirl in Sweden in the 1940s. Many of us pressed flowers as children but Berit’s specimens are of an extremely high standard and some of them are almost works of art in their own right.

The display also included Primula scotica, a tiny plant, endemic to the northern coastal areas of Scotland, equipment for collecting and preserving plants and a few of Heleen’s particular favourite specimens.

Heleen described ways of pressing and preserving plants and emphasised the importance of keeping the collection free of pests. All the specimens laid out will be put into a freezer for a few days before they are returned to the herbarium.

Not a ‘walk’ as such but a wonderful demonstration of the wealth of material in the herbarium at the Garden. This was a most enjoyable and fascinating afternoon. Many thanks to Heleen for her hard work in selecting, presenting and caring for the specimens.