What is a herbarium and what does the TCD herbarium do?
A herbarium is, essentially, a preserved, reference collection of plants. Though this sounds banal a herbarium's function is vital over many different areas of science.
Some of the TCD Herbarium's main functions are:
- to allow accurate identification of plants (not easy outside of Ireland as there are about 400,000 species of plant worldwide of which many thousands are unknown to science and there are relatively few available books);
- to certify that a plant name is correct (by providing a vital reference collection of authenticated material. This is often based on the original material used to frame the plant’s description and is called ‘Type material’);
- to act as a source of information about plants (e.g. on plant distribution, ecology or plant medicinal usage);
- to allow the validation of scientific observations (e.g. on climate change, genetics and conservation matters);
- to support the research and teaching activities of the Department of Botany;
- to provide an internationally recognized source of plant systematic expertise.
To achieve these aims the TCD herbarium houses all sorts of plant material collected from all over the world. Its collections encompass many different plant groups ranging from fungi, through algae, mosses and liverworts, to ferns, conifers, cycads and flowering plants (Angiosperms). It is one of only two herbaria in Ireland (the other is that of the National Botanic Garden at Glasnevin) but one of many worldwide (currently, there are 3,293 herbaria in 168 countries with an associated 10,060 staff). On such a world-scale the TCD herbarium ranks as of exceptionally high importance because of the unique material it contains.
A very useful web-site expanding on some of the above points is that of the Kew Herbarium Catalogue (kew.org) which has much extra information as well as links to useful, relevant sites.
Herbarium (reference www.aluka.org)