The Library of Plants
When you enter the herbarium in room 312 in the David F. Putnam Science Center, there isn't a plant in sight. Yet, to a botanical researcher, this room is a treasure trove of information.
Plants in the herbarium are illustrated by artist Jamie McGuigan '07, who is funded through a National Science Foundation grant written by Dr. Porter-Utley.
"This herbarium, one of five in the state, is a high-quality library of the flora of Cheshire County," noted Dr. Kristen Porter-Utley, the collection's current curator. "It functions exactly as a library does for researchers."
Dried, pressed plant specimens fill the herbarium's large metal cabinets. Most were gathered in the early '70s by the collection's founder, David Boufford '73, when he was an undergraduate biology student here at KSC. "David Boufford was such a great collector," remarked Dr. Porter-Utley. "All the people who have come after him have just tried to maintain the collection and add to it as they can." Even today, 37 years later, Dr. Boufford, now senior research scientist at the Harvard University Herbarium, has more specimens in the KSC herbarium than all other contributors combined.
Every specimen in the collection is carefully tagged with the collector's name, the identification by species, precise observations (what its now-faded flowers looked like when fresh, whether there were any bees or other pollinating insects nearby, and so on), the date it was found, and its exact location. This detailed record is what makes the herbarium so useful to researchers. "You can see, from looking at samples in a herbarium, if there have been changes in plant populations over time," said Dr. Porter-Utley. "It's also valuable to anyone who wants to study plants in the area."
Dr. Porter-Utley hopes to use the collection to learn if there have been changes in the plant population of Cheshire County over the past 37 years. The herbarium is open to the public, and any researcher is welcome to use it, though visitors need scientific training in handling the specimens. If you're interested in visiting, please contact Dr. Porter-Utley to arrange admission.