|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
No. 138 June 5, 1996
A relatively small computer database that herbarium COLO was able to put together with Tim Hogan's and Dina Clark's help, is a godsend to us. All that we did was to search the herbarium for one voucher specimen each for every species that occurs in any Colorado county (there are 66 as you know). This list can be retrieved for any county. What we get out of this is that if anybody goes into a county and wants to collect, here is a list of the things we already have, and they can take this list with them to avoid duplication. Fortunately, we have the field books of our major collectors and can check their itineraries very easily to find out where they really were. Considering that long ago, when I assessed our coverage by selecting the lilies, which are easy to see and collect, and predictable as to their occurrence, I found we had 19 per cent of expected. I suppose that now we are probably close to 30 per cent. We certainly can be more efficient in the future. I think that "computerization" of collections should arise from a real need, not to just get Brownie points with your fellow curators and administrators.
I do not go along with total computerization. At the present time the COLO herbarium people are doing only the Colorado collections. They copy all of the information on the specimen, and try to interpret the handwritten labels. I find that the current crop of students have a very hard time with them, prob- ably because they have never had to read handwritten things, and may rarely have used the pen themselves. I have to do a lot of interpretation for them because I know almost every sheet that goes into the place, and many of the collectors. As far as I know, this job will take several years and use a lot of money and time on the part of the herbarium budget and the students, respectively.
Here are the points that need to be considered very carefully before embarking on total computerization:
The big question, which really should always be before the people who give out the money, is this. Will the users of such a data base ever pay our herbarium proportionately for the information they get out of it? I think the answer is obvious. They will expect to get it free of charge. If I were a fiscal officer of the university I would insist that there be a quid pro quo, but what administrator knows anything about an herbarium except that it costs a great deal to maintain it? In his eyes the space it occupies would be very useful for some other discipline. This is one reason why herbaria are being given away. Paradoxically, the herbarium manager is encouraged to believe that computerization is a magic formula that will make the herbarium more respectable in the eyes of an administrator and ones scientific colleagues in other institutions.
The Yukon has seen several significant foreign invasions in the last 150 years: the fur trade, the Gold Rush, and the building of the Alaska highway, to name a few. With each of these events, some have stayed and adapted to the harsh northern environment, others have simply disappeared. Along with the new residents came many new animals and plants. This invasion continues to this day. I am part of this invasion, having moved to the Yukon last year. Since my arrival, I have started to locate other invaders who may be overlooked, the vegetative invaders, the alien plants.
Many of these plants are familiar to most Yukoners. The lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl.) only came to the Yukon about 500 years ago or so and continues to move north and westward. Sweet clover (Melilotus alba Desr.) and alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) are familiar to travelers of our highways. Others are relatively unknown and their distributions poorly understood. Since my arrival at least five new species have been added to our knowledge of the flora of the Yukon. Four turned up in the area of Haines Junction and were brought to me by Lloyd Freese of the National Park Service. He realized that the plants were unusual, finding them growing along the highway. All proved to be new species and included: Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.), creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense [L.] Scop.), diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa Lam.) and salsify (Tragopogon dubius Scop.).
Perhaps the most exciting discovery was of the chick-pea milkvetch (Astragalus cicer L.). This is a very showy perennial of the pea family. It was found on a roadside in the extreme southeast corner of the Yukon near the LaBiche river blooming on June 10 last year. It had ascending to suberect stems (5) 25-60 (100) cm and large racemes of yellow flowers crowded into ovoid heads. Leaflets 8-15 pairs. It has broad stipules. From the remnants of the previous year, I found hairy black marble-sized 10-15 mm inflated pods. Most species that are this large and colourful are also very easily identifiable, however I was unable to locate this species in any of the surrounding floras. I spotted the same species along the windswept Haines road near the B.C./Yukon border. It was still blooming in October while the first snow was falling. This only added to my confusion. Surely a plant that is this widespread cannot be too hard to identify? My search finally ended this February. While on vacation in Victoria I visited the Royal B.C. Museum. I talked to Chris Brayshaw who remarked that he had found a species similar to my description near Ft. Nelson several years ago. Likewise, he was unable to find a description in any North American Flora and finally located it in the Flora Europaea. With the assistance of John Pinder-Moss, the biological collections manager at the herbarium, we finally located it in the collections. This plant comes from Belgium and north-central Russia southwards to northern Spain and Bulgaria although it is known to occasionally naturalize farther north. According to the Atlas of North American Astragalus Part II, Astragalus cicer is widely dis- persed in moist grassy places, along streams and ditches, in hedges, and in open woodland over most of continental Europe. It was introduced in the United States for trial as a cover or forage crop, reportedly naturalized in Whatcom County, Washington, in southern Manitoba, near Brandon and possibly in northestern Nevada. The Vascular Plants of British Columbia reports the occurrence in B.C. as being rare found in Coquitlam and Williams Lake, and also reports their flower colour as white. I will have to return to the Haines road this summer to determine if this species also ranges south into B.C.
I bought the first volume (Pteridophytes to Butomaceae) of the Arctic Flora USSR when I was a graduate student at the Charles University in Prague in 1960. I was thrilled by the fresh taxonomic treatment of the Russian North and I immediately subscribed the series in the "Soviet Book" bookstore in Prague. My excitement did not last too long. Somebody pinched my copy of the Pteridophytes and the "Soviet Book" ignored my subscription. Nevertheless, with the help of my friends and booksellers like Koeltz and Scientia I managed to gather at least the most important volumes of the Arctic Flora. Some taxonomic treatments, especially those by Yurtzev and Tzvelev, are still useful and interesting.
The University of Alberta Press started to publish the English translation of the Arctic Flora of the USSR and the first volume appeared last year. It contains Polypodiaceae - Butomaceae (originally published in 1960), and Gramineae (originally published in 1964). The treatment of pteridophytes is rather stale and that of grasses was superceded by Tzvelev's "Grasses of the USSR." In spite of this, the translation of the Arctic Flora should be praised since it makes this important work accessible to the broad English-speaking audience. The translation will have six volumes, the last one will appear in 1998.
Submissions, subscriptions, etc.: email@example.com.
BEN is archived on gopher freenet.victoria.bc.ca. The URL is:
gopher://freenet.victoria.bc.ca:70/11/environment/Botany/ben. Also archived at http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/