By Amy Weiss
Mar 22 2019
A trip to the field isn't always necessary to describe a new species. Many unrecognized species have already been collected and filed into herbaria around the world. There are many collections gathered by NYBG scientists that are still waiting for an identification to species; occasionally remaining for decades before the right specialist comes along.
While pulling unmounted specimens for a student to study, I came upon one wrapped in an old newspaper: a November 8, 1944 edition of the New York Times. According to the information handwritten on the paper, the specimen within had been collected several months earlier by Bassett Maguire, as part of his May expedition to the Potaro River Gorge in British Guiana (now Guyana).
Newspaper serves many purposes in herbaria. Specimens are placed in sheets of newpaper before being pressed and dried in the field. On these newspapers we write the collector and collection number so that we can keep track of duplicates (multiple specimens of the same plant or population, collected at the same site, and on the same date). We can also keep track of where duplicates have been sent. In the image of the newspaper you may be able to make out a small "-U" right above the word Times. The "U" is a herbarium code telling us that we sent a duplicate to Utrecht University in the Netherlands (now incorporated into Naturalis).
The newspapers used to press specimens are also time capsules. This time I enjoyed a little history lesson, as the yellowed copy of the Times inspired me to read up on the U.S. 1944 election.