Saturday, April 14, 2007

Working at the National Herbarium, New South Wales

My second day at the herbarium was productive, but not nearly as much as on Tuesday, Apr 3rd when the staff was off to their all-day retreat. I gave a research seminar at noon on Wednesday (Evolutionary pattern and process in Penstemon (Plantaginaceae)) and spent the rest of the day photographing specimens and collecting tissue samples. I actually worked so far ahead on Tuesday that I finished the sampling on Wednesday, which was a huge surprise. I had thought it would take me all the way until Thursday afternoon to finish sampling and so I had changed my itinerary to stay in Sydney so I could work through the entire collection rather than working part of it and then moving on to Canberra.

Here's the area of the herbarium where I worked. It's right on the main traffic route so I was lucky to have some solitude on Tuesday to get so much done.

I used a photo copy stand to take the photos of herbarium sheets. Those coin envelopes are what I used for tissue samples.

Here's an example of a herbarium sheet that has important data to record. This is a collection of Euphrasia collina ssp collina collected by William Barker. He wrote a revision of the genus in 1982 and his collections are particularly important for me to examine to get a feel for the taxonomy he worked out for the group. I didn't reduce the photo size so if you click on the image you can read the label pretty clearly and get a feel for how good of condition this specimen is in. I photographed about 400 sheets of Euphrasia during my time at the herbarium.

Types, holotypes and isotypes are also very important to examine to get a feel for the diversity of species. I didn't look at the type collection this time around. I have photos of types for most of these species from my 2005 trip.

This isn't a Euphrasia, but is an interesting plant I learned a bit about by talking to the collector (Ms. Briggs). It turns out that this genus, Hydatella, is the closest relative to Nelumbo, a large water lily. The molecular work had just been published in Nature a week or so before my visit to the herbarium. It was neat to see the original specimens from which this work was done.

It's hard to imagine that this diminutive plant is a close relative of a large water lily, but the molecules (DNA sequences, in this case) don't lie. Pretty cool, eh? (Well, if you're a nerdy plant molecular systematist, it is cool!)

Walking back to the hotel that evening, I felt pretty good about the work accomplished. I had a ziploc bag full of tissue samples to bring back to my lab and I had a lot of specimen photos to examine at my leisure as I think about projects to explore for systematic investigations of another cool parasitic plant genus.

I enjoyed the walk through The Domains - especially the old fig trees that have such interesting trunks.

I really like how these buttresses come out from the main stem to support the weight of the canopy.

You don't see much of this in our temperate deciduous forest trees.

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