BHSU Media

Herbarium serves as timeless vessel for students

Isabel Litzen, Contributing Writer

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A third-year biology major sits, distressed, at her desk cluttered with opened plant identification books, scribbled-in notebooks and multiple laptops. She has been attempting to properly identify her recently collected plant for nearly three hours now, and she can’t decipher if the plant is Agave brateosa, Agave filigera or Agave lechuguilla. She has studied all of her resources and knows each of the plants characteristics like the back of her hand, but her plant could be any of the three.

She is about to give up, but then she remembers that her school has an herbarium. She pays it a visit, easily picks out the three options amidst the array of shelved plant specimens, and compares her plant to each. Within minutes, she is sure that what she has found is Agave filigera, thread agave.

Many people, including a vast amount of the BHSU student population, are unaware that there are nearly 100,000 preserved plant specimens within the very walls of Jonas science. These specimens make up the BHSU herbarium, a resource that has been a part of the school since it was a teaching college back in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

The herbarium contains plant specimens from the U.S. and other countries. However, the most abundant sources are South Dakota and Wyoming. The plant specimen selection ranges from the present day to the oldest known specimen, collected in 1872.

The herbarium can be used for more than plant identification. It can also be used to observe vegetation changes in certain areas over time, to observe genetic changes in plants over time and to continue work on databasing the plants.

The herbarium is currently being curated by university professors and botanists, Justin and Tara Ramsey. However, much work is still done by the retired botanist, Mark Gabel. Gabel took over the herbarium back in the 1980s when he was a professor at BHSU. Since his retirement, he continues to spend 35 to 40 hours a week in the herbarium, organizing and developing it, reducing backlog and writing grant proposals.

“[Gabel] is really invested in growing and protecting the herbarium. The reason that it’s as good as it is is because of his efforts,” Ramsey said.

When Gabel first became involved in the herbarium, it only contained about 30,000 different species. Since his time, this number has increased by over 70,000 plants. Ten years ago, Augustana University’s herbarium, and Black Hills State’s herbarium was combined. In 2017, South Dakota State University’s herbarium, as well as the University of South Dakota’s herbarium, were combined with BHSU’s as well, making it the largest herbarium in the state with over 100,000 species being housed.

“That’s really what made us jump up to 100,000. They probably had about 30,000 [species] at USD and I believe 6,000 at Dakota State,” Gabel said.

Grant contributions have gone toward hiring student workers to continue expanding the database. These employees work to record the information found on the labels of the plants in the herbarium, image these plants and provide each with barcodes so that their page on the database can be easily accessed.

From those labels, they take the information and type it into the computer. They are putting a barcode on it so the bar code can be linked to the database,” Ramsey said.

The database can be found by simply going to www.bhsu.edu, searching “herbarium,” clicking on “database,” than “search the database.” Once these steps are followed, the viewer will be provided with easy access to over 200,000 plant records from 26 different herbaria around America.

Historically, the herbarium has served as valued resource and will continue to do so for many years.

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Herbarium serves as timeless vessel for students