Wisconsin State Herbarium tries to ‘counteract bio-illiteracy’
“In a past century people could go outside and name the flowers or trees,” said Ken Cameron, the herbarium’s director. “Now you take a kid outside and the most they can say is, ‘It’s a tree.’ If we can get students in and get them excited, then I think we’ve helped to counteract bio-illiteracy.”
Herbaria are becoming more of a rarity. And the UW-Madison has the third largest collection of any public university in the country, behind the universities of California and Michigan. At many universities, botany has been absorbed into large biology departments, and collections put into storage. That has not happened at UW-Madison.
“The combination of having a botany department and a big herbarium is getting pretty rare,” said David Baum, botany department chairman. “And more and more herbaria are closing or making the decision to move off campus into storage, which has a real negative effect on research.”
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Herbarium, founded in 1849 (the year the University was founded), is a museum collection of dried, labeled plants of state, national and international importance, which is used extensively for taxonomic and ecological research, as well as for teaching and public service. It contains the world’s largest collection of Wisconsin plants, about one-third of its 1,000,000 specimens having been collected within the state. Most of the world’s floras are well represented, and the holdings from certain areas, such as the Upper Midwest, eastern North America and western Mexico, are widely recognized as resources of global significance.
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