When I retrieve specimens from the National Herbarium for my research, or to share with students or visitors, the labels always send my imagination spinning. The rectangular, black-and-white summary on the outside of packets or at the bottom right-hand corner of herbarium sheets documents the species name, the place where it was collected, and the date. This is the information that makes the specimen invaluable in answering a great number of research questions. The information and the plants it accompanies also tell us of a real experience of a real person in nature. Having been lucky enough to travel in nature (as we are doing right now), I find all the discovery and experience represented in the Herbarium, which consists of over a million plant specimens, to be very powerful.
Somehow, this trip has helped me to love Canada’s national plant collection even more than I did when we left. As we explore plant life on shore or in our microscope lab on the ship, I find it truly remarkable how strongly interwoven are our diverse Arctic perspectives of history, survival, adventure, science, culture and art. We read about members of the infamous Franklin expedition fighting starvation by eating rock tripe, lichen we have seen at every stop along our route. We have spotted the Sunburst lichens that reveal the perches of Arctic birds, a beacon for hunters and people who study birds, also called ornithologists.
It is wonderful to see even more depth and potential in each specimen in the Canadian Museum of Nature’s growing archive of plants from across Canada. I feel very lucky to be helping to build and share this spectacular resource!