|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
|No. 477 June 10, email@example.com||Victoria, B.C.|
Beatrix Potter could not find the courage to draw one. Charles Darwin's daughter Etty destroyed all the specimens she could find, "lest they corrupt the morals of the maids." Visit the old Reykjavík cemetery this fall, and you'll probably find several of the phallic-looking objects in question thrusting up from the ground and smelling like ripe carrion.
Oh well, you might think, at least they died happy.
The presumably happy objects are fungi rather than the virile members of dead male Icelanders. Specifically, they're fungi that have the not inappropriate Latin name of Phallus impudicus. The Icelandic name, 'fylubollur,' is just as appropriate--it means "stinky male genitals." The English name is Common Stinkhorn.
The Common Stinkhorn is not common in Iceland. Indeed, the only place where it's been documented is the old Reykjavík cemetery. Fear not: it's not interfering with the eternal rest of a prominent Icelander by digesting him or her. Rather, it's digesting wood chips and woody debris in the vicinity of the graves.
The stinkhorn starts as a white entity known as an egg. At the right time, the egg will break with a sound that French botanist Jean Bulliard compared to a pistol shot, and then the phallic part will emerge. In an hour or two, the fungus will reach full height. Reputedly, its growth is so dramatic that it can lift up 150 kg of asphalt.
The carrion-like smell comes from the gleba, a coating of green mucus at the top of the fungus. This smell, which is usually offensive to people, is irresistible to flies. And that's the point: the gleba houses the fungus' spores. Flies land on it and either eat the spores or carry them off on their feet, thus creating the possibility of another stinkhorn generation.
The first Icelandic stinkhorns were documented as recently as 1990. But the species has existed elsewhere for millennia. In Europe, it was believed to have aphrodisiac powers, giving the men who ate it powerful erections. It was also used to cure rheumatism, epilepsy, gout, and skin cancer. In certain tropical countries, the gleba was spread on young women on the assumption that it would make them fertile.
But I don't recommend that you collect the fungus for any of the aforementioned reasons. Nor do I recommend that you collect it so that you can show it to your friends and have them say "gross." Instead, simply admire it. And let it continue its life as a citizen in good standing (so to speak) in Reykjavik's oldest cemetery.
In 2013, we provided an abstract and a poster on this subject for the 28th annual meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. The following is a longer and more detailed outline that will now be readily available online.
Backlogs usually occur when shifting priorities prevent material from being processed. Most collections have backlog which is simply material intended for the main collection which is not yet incorporated. From 1940 to 1970, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada National Collection of Vascular Plants (DAO) grew rapidly with limited staff and this resulted in a large backlog of specimens. In subsequent years, the changing of priorities delayed any substantial progress in clearing this backlog. It was significant and included 40,000 specimens.
Beginning in 2012, when it was 50 years old, we intensified our efforts to eliminate this backlog. This special effort was prompted by a space feasibility study to explore options for a movement of the herbarium to provide more space. We simply wanted to get the herbarium tidied up before a move and avoid being in a position of planning for space for material that managers may regard as unimportant (since it had not been processed in 50 years). Of course our gradual work on this backlog had already revealed that it was quite valuable (Feswick and Catling 2004, Mitrow and Catling 2014).
A great opportunity to take a large step in dealing with the backlog occurred in 2013 when numerous summer students and contractors were hired as a result of a special request to management. We expanded our volunteer program so as to have more people working together on specific tasks with the students and contract workers. The eight volunteers contributed over 2,400 hours of work.
All 40,000 specimens were processed to eliminate the long existing backlog. Over 5,000 specimen labels were prepared, 23,658 specimens accessioned and mounted, 11,000 specimens sorted to family and species and filed in the main collection, 61 packages of research material (16,342 specimens) sent out, and 1,330 specimens were digitized (barcoded, photographed and databased).
Since backlog is a common challenge in collections, we share our strategy in the hope that it may prove useful to others. There were two steps and some considerations.
It has been said by a prominent and clever curator that "inaccessible materials are of no value," and backlog is often more or less inaccessible. However, it is often extremely valuable and deserves to be protected until it can be processed. Backlog can become more valuable over time because the specimens are: (1) increasingly important as indicators of past conditions; (2) are no longer available where they were originally collected due to changes on the landscape; and (3) of value in completing a sample of older material which is no longer possible in any other way.
A backlog general inventory can often be completed in a few hours. It describes the content and condition of the backlog. It is useful in revealing specific exemplary items as well as in providing an idea of the time and financial requirements for processing. Among feature items revealed by the DAO backlog inventory were old specimens collected by Mrs. Agnes Saunders. She was accomplished in the arts of music and botany, as well-imbued in the domestic and social graces proper to the times. Mrs. Saunders was the wife of the renowned William Saunders who became the first director of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 1886. She was also mother of Sir Charles Saunders who in 1904 developed the world's most famous high quality cultivar of wheat called "Marquis" which opened the Canadian west to settlement. During the First World War in 1915, it made up 90% of the wheat shipped by Canada to France, and was essential at that time since U-boats had cut off supplies from Australia and Argentina. The AAFC National Collection of Vascular Plants is housed in the Saunders Building, a high priority heritage structure on the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, and possibly one of the most important of heritage buildings owned by AAFC. With these Saunders collections in the backlog, its significance in terms of heritage was easily understood. There were also specimens collected by James Fletcher who started the DAO herbarium in 1886 and specimens collected by famous early writer Catherine Parr Traill in 1894.
Processing backlog is beneficial because: (1) space is made available; (2) it provides material for the exchange program which is the most cost efficient means of obtaining essential research material; and (3) it increases the availability and use of valuable collections.
We estimated the workload and time required to clear the backlog to be approximately 3400 hours. Having developed a general inventory indicating that the backlog was very valuable, we were in a position to request help from upper management. The inventory also provided the information needed to develop a work plan. A request for staff requires that management can appreciate both the value of the work and that there is a strategic plan for its completion. This included prioritizing and organizing several different tasks: (a) Sorting the material (b) Determining duplication (c) Labelling, mounting and accessioning (d) Improving locality data (by annotation) (e) Databasing as required (f) Determination of some unidentified specimens (g) Sending duplicates of research material as exchange
This type of assignment increases the diversity of work in a volunteer program.
Working on backlog and applying best practice guidelines enhances the feeling of achievement and satisfaction. Having a common objective and focussing on solutions to shared problems has proven to be a productive and a team building activity.
Periodic humidity levels over 80% during the summer of 2013 and ongoing consideration of a new cooling and dehumidifying system that would be much safer for the collection as a result of removal of overhead water pipes, has required a consideration of appropriate actions. The risk of higher humidity to the collection has to do with chemical, biological and mechanical deterioration as well as health risk. A short abstract and poster concerning this has been prepared for the 2014 meeting of the Canadian Botanical Association. The longer version here makes more of the information available for curators and collection managers.
Leakage and flooding can originate both externally and internally. Increased humidity in an herbarium, or any dried collection, can also result from (1) natural causes, (2) malfunction of dehumidifiers, automatic water sprinklers for fire control, or climate control systems and (3) alteration to parts of a building that result in increased moisture accumulation.
Water can result in direct damage by wetting specimens leading to destruction of tissues as well as vastly increasing problems associated with high humidity. All references to humidity in herbarium collections allude to its importance and none allow over 60% RH (Bridson and Forman 1999). The general risk assessment plan for the DAO herbarium (Mitrow and Catling 2012) called for 40% RH as has been suggested by authors concerning the protection of herbaria (Lull and Moore 1999). Molds such as Erotium herbariorum can grow, although slowly, within a range of 72-85% RH (Carroll et al. 2010). Human exposure to molds in buildings can cause allergies, infection and irritation (Health Canada 2004, Horner 2005, Jarvis and Morey 2001). Alten (1999) provides a useful overview of humidity problems in collections which includes chemical, biological and mechanical deterioration. With regard to biological damage, even if humidity levels are insufficient to enable growth of destructive and dangerous molds, higher humidity may still encourage primary herbarium insect pests such as the Cigarette Beetle (Lasioderma serricorne). Chemical deterioration is equivalent to natural aging and its rate increases under conditions of higher humidity so any increase above a preferred level is harmful over the longer term. Mechanical stress occurs when water absorption changes size and shape leading to cracking, splitting and warping as a result of RH fluctuations.
A risk assessment determines the level of risk resulting from water and humidity under the specific circumstances. It also provides an important document used to inform managers/administrators in order to gain support for the necessary modifications required to deal with the problem. At DAO we determined the following risks and recommended actions:
(1) Leakage from overhead water pipes associated with the water cooled climate control system. - Action: Installation of a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system without water.
(2) Highly fluctuating relative humidity (RH) related to both external and internal conditions. - Action: installation of dehumidifiers and monitoring temperature and humidity levels by using automatic data logger readers.
(3) Open compactor (no sealed cabinets) exposing specimens to greater water risk as well as the lack of completely sealing aisles. Even with removal of overhead water pipes, there is still a possibility of water damage due to HVAC drainage and individually heat-activated sprinklers required for fire control. - Action: Movement of type specimens to sealed cabinets and longer term plan for relocation to new facilities with a compactor containing cabinets with sealing doors.
(4) Half of the herbarium is located in a basement room and lower level and basement rooms are subject to flooding. - Action: Movement of collection to upper level rooms.
(5) Mold already on walls could increase the risk of very rapid mold development in a moist environment. - Action: Obtain help from mold removal and remediation service.
(6) Lack of staff and monitoring on weekends, nights and holidays. - Action: Arrange for monitoring.
(1) The new HVAC system has been partially installed and is transferable to new facilities. It is expected to eliminate the humidity problem and to address urgent needs related to protection of the collection from overhead water pipes (which have been identified as a very significant risk in a number of annual reports). The risk level was based on serious water damage events in other herbaria.
(2) Friedrich Model D70BP dehumidifiers were installed. A single unit can effectively control humidity in an 800 square foot room, having the capacity to remove 70 pints/day. Temperature and humidity levels are now monitored using automatic data logger readers.
(3) The movement of type specimens to cabinets with sealed doors was completed and the purchase of sealed cabinets to accommodate the entire collection was initiated.
(4) A longer term plan based on a space feasibility study has identified options for housing the collection in non-basement rooms.
(5) A mold removal and remediation service was employed. Further mold development was arrested through the use of mold resistant paint, reduction of atmospheric moisture, and increased air circulation.
(6) A security check of the facilities at nights, on weekends and holidays has been implemented.
Petersen, J. H. 2013. The Kingdom of Fungi. Princeton University Press. 265 p.
As author of one of the better-known mycology textbooks and a companion CD-ROM, I should perhaps be plugging them relentlessly, but here is a book that does not compete with The Fifth Kingdom, but rather supplements it with the finest mycological photography I have ever seen. Jens Petersen may well be the world's best photomicrographer of fungi. And since it was largely aesthetic considerations that drew me to the fungi as a student, I am happy to recommend this fine book to young people of all ages.
Pages 10-11 provide a fine example. Here you will see a triptych of photomicrographs of Ascobolus, a tiny ascomycete that fruits on herbivore dung. First there is a superb picture of an entire ascoma - a tiny mass of translucent tissue with a disc-like hymenium at the top, recognizable by the tubular asci standing upright in a palisade from one side to the other. Then there is a close-up of some asci with the individual ascospores visible, and finally a picture of a single ascus containing 8 purplish ascospores. Just one example among many that are calculated to delight and enlighten the reader. The rest of the book is a cornucopia of superb photographs covering an extremely diverse range of fungi, with just enough text to provide a guide to the richness of the illustrations, many of which are visually absolutely stunning.
The book is up-to-date in that it recognizes 8 phyla of fungi, illustrates a remarkably wide range of them, and tries to integrate them into the biological scheme of things. It is inexpensive. Buy it and enjoy it.
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