Collected on this day...
a weekly blog featuring specimens in the Carnegie Museum's herbarium.
each specimen has an important scientific and cultural story to tell.
each specimen has an important scientific and cultural story to tell.
Specimen with no leaves! These twigs of white ash (Fraxinus americana) were collected in 1926 by J.K. Doutt along Squaw Run, PA. Many specimens in the herbarium were collected from Squaw Run, especially in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Squaw Run is a tributary of the Allegheny River, that runs through Fox Chapel and O'hara Townships. Specimens without leaves are not common, and it is unclear what the exact motivations behind this collection was.
White ash (Fraxinus americana) is a common tree in forests across the Eastern US. They are currently threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis), an invasive beetle that was accidentally introduced from Asia. It was only detected in North America in 2002, and not in Pennsylvania until 2007! It has the potential to cause our native ash trees (all native species in the genus Fraxinus) to extinction, rivaling the impacts of the Chestnut Blight on American chestnuts in the early 1900s.
Does this heart-shaped leaf look familiar? 22 years ago, this specimen of heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) was collected on Valentine’s Day in Peru. Almost certainly you have seen this species, but probably not in the wild. Heart leaf philodendron is a very popular houseplant. This huge leaf on this specimen may look a bit different than those in your home, as the species rarely reaches maturity as a houseplant. Philodendrons have both juvenile and adult forms of their leaves, changing their form and size as they climb up a tree.
The name Philodendron comes from the Greek philo meaning “love” and dendron meaning “tree.” The name doesn’t refer to the heart shaped leaves, but rather to its growth habit as a vine that climbs trees. It is native to tropical Mexico, the Caribbean, and regions in South America.
Happy Valentine’s Day from this loving plant!
Philodendron thriving in its anthropogenic habitat in my kitchen. Philodendrons are incredibly popular as indoor plants, being easy to take care of and incredibly tolerant of low light conditions in your house. Philodendrons are toxic to pets. However, the NASA Clean Air Study has found philodendrons to improve indoor air quality.
Heartleaf philodendron at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA. Feb 3, 2018.
In honor of the cool, new Tropical Forest Cuba that opened yesterday at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, here’s a specimen collected in Cuba 115 years ago today. This pine specimen of Pinus elliottii, known as slash pine or Cuban pine, was collected by George Russell Shaw in the Isles of Pines, Cuba (now known as Isla de la Juventud). Shaw was an influential botanist working at the Arnold Arboretum (Harvard) who specialized in pines.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has many specimens from Cuba. Curator of Botany Otto Jennings and others went on expeditions to Cuba in the early 1900s, and many specimens are now preserved at the Carnegie Museum and elsewhere. The Carnegie Museum herbarium includes 4,068 specimens from Cuba, of which 54 are type specimens (meaning they are associated with the description of a species new to science).
Learn more about the plants and culture of Cuba at Tropical Forest Cuba at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens!
Above: Publication resulting from expeditions to the Isles of Pines, written by one the first curators of botany Otto Jennings, who researched the plants of Cuba. 631 specimens from Cuba collected by Jennings reside in the Carnegie Museum herbarium today.
Don’t grab on to this tree to catch your fall! Aptly named “devil’s walking stick,” this species (Aralia spinosa) was collected on February 9, 1935 by John F. Lewis near Connellsville, PA. The herbarium at the California University of Pennsylvania is named after John Lewis. Many of his specimens in the herbarium are twigs collected in winter, without any leaves.
Devil’s walking stick, also called “Hercules’ club” is a small shrub/tree native to forest understories, ravines, and forest edges across the Eastern United States. It has huge leaves comprised of many leaflets, and as can be seen from this specimen – impressive, sharp spines along the stem (technically called “prickles” in botanical speak). The prickles are so large that the specimen was too thick to image with our scanner used for other specimens.
This plant is often grown in cultivation due to its unique look, as is the closely related (and very similarly looking) Japanese angelica-tree (Aralia elata), which is native to East Asia. Japanese angelica-tree is listed as an invasive species under the highest rank (“Severe Threat”) by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources due to its ability to spread into wild habitats and displace native plants.
Above: Uniquely huge compound leaves and fierce stems of Devil’s walking stick in a forest near Salisbury, PA (Somerset county; May 8, 2017).
Below: Striking similarities to the closely related East Asian species Aralia elata. (Mt. Pidan, Russian Far East; September 30, 2012).
Collected on February 2, 1899, this specimen was found by Cyrus Pringle in lava fields near Cuernavaca, Mexico. Pringle is a well-known American botanist and prolific plant collector, with over 500,000 specimens distributed in herbaria across the world! To give this enormous number some context, his collections alone are nearly the size of the entire Carnegie Museum herbarium. The herbarium at the University of Vermont is named after him. The Carnegie Museum herbarium includes 5,378 specimens he collected. During his life (1838-1911), Pringle discovered approximately 1,200 new species.
In addition to the Northeastern US, many of Pringle’s specimens are from Mexico. In 1885, Pringle was funded by Harvard to document the flora of Mexico.
This particular specimen is a type specimen of Agave hispida, meaning this particular specimen was used in the naming and description of this species as new to science. There are many different categories of type specimens. More specifically, this specimen is considered an isoneotype: “iso-“ because it is a duplicate of the “neotype” (collected from the same plant). The “neotype” is “neo-” (or new) because it was designated as the type after the original publication that first described the species. The neotype of this species (pictured below) is in the United States National Herbarium (Smithsonian).
Signs of spring...in January?! You might be surprised that skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is among the earliest blooming wildflowers in western Pennsylvania. Collected on January 25, 1950, this specimen was found by “Mr. Harrison” near Allison Park, PA. Unlike most herbarium specimens, which are pressed and mounted to paper, this specimen is a dried three-dimensional flower. Like other members of the Arum family (Araceae; which includes the common houseplants called “peace lilies”), their flowering structures consist of a sheath (“spathe”) with a spike of small flowers inside (the “spadix”).
Skunk cabbage grows in wet forested areas across the Eastern US. Their flowers poke through the ground in February and March (or as early as December/January). Their large “cabbage-like” leaves don’t emerge until later in the spring. Amazingly, its flowers produce heat that capable of melting the snow around it. The flowers smell like rotting meat, which attract the flies that pollinate it, and as the name suggests, the leaves smell like skunk when crushed.
Keep a look out for these flowers along wet woods in our area!
More pictures of this uniquely awesome plant at Trillium Trail (Fox Chapel, PA) can be found here: https://www.masonheberling.com/skunk-cabbage.html
Skunk cabbage blooms poking through the leaves and snow in the winter.
Skunk cabbage leaves in the spring.
Not deer poop! In the fall, skunk cabbage seeds can be found along the forest floor.
How do you fit the tallest plant in the world on an herbarium sheet? On January 21, 1904, this California redwood specimen was collected by E. Dudley in Santa Cruz Mountains, California. California redwood or coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is an evergreen tree, which can possibly live for up to 2,000 years and reach well over 300 feet in height! Discovered in 2006, the tallest individual ever recorded was 379.7 feet tall. The species is native to the United States, found in the iconic redwood forests along the coast of California and into Oregon.
Collected on January 12, 1935, this specimen of American hazelnut was found by John Franklin Lewis on Limestone Hill, near Connellsville, PA. The herbarium at the California University of Pennsylvania is named after John Franklin Lewis. American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) is a native shrub, found in woods across the Eastern US. It is monecious, meaning it has separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The structures at the end of many of the branches in this specimen are immature male flowers (called “catkins”), which remain present through the winter. In spring, these male catkins hanging from their branches will flower to spread pollen in the wind. The hazelnuts are produced from the female flowers. This plant can be an important food for wildlife. The nuts are said to taste similar to cultivated European hazelnuts, but are smaller.
Some species are well adapted for life in the Anthropocene, commonly found in novel, human-made habitats such as roadsides, sidewalk cracks, farm fields, dumps and industrial sites. One such plant species that particularly well suited to city life is “quickweed” (Galinsoga quadriradiata). It has many common names, including “Peruvian daisy,” “shaggy soldier,” and “fringed quickweed.” In fact, the species was once known locally as “Pittsburgh weed.” To our knowledge, this is the only example of a non-native species that was first recorded in North America in Pittsburgh (or at least among the earliest). It was introduced here from South America sometime in the mid-1800s. Pittsburgh weed was first discovered by the courthouse in Pittsburgh by Judge John D. Shafer (1848-1926), a prominent lawyer and dean of Law School of the Western University of Pennsylvania (now University of Pittsburgh). An avid botanist, Shafer was also a founding member of the Western Pennsylvania Botanical Society. The specimen pictured here is one of the earliest (if not the earliest) specimen collected in North America, well outside its native range. It was collected 1869 in along the “Ridge St” railroad tracks in Allegheny City, which has since been annexed by Pittsburgh (now the North Side). Keep a look out for this interesting species throughout the city, especially along sidewalk cracks and at the base of street signs and electric line poles. It is now a common weed, and can be found in nearly every major city all over the world.
Below: Close up of original specimen label from the earliest collection (that still exists) of the species in Pittsburgh, collected in 1869.
Below: "Pittsburgh weed" (aka "quickweed") taken on October 13, 2017 in the lawn near the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Even though it was collected in Japan, this specimen might look familiar in Pennsylvania. This specimen of wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) was collected by M. Togashi in Japan in 1985. Native to East Asia, wintercreeper (also called Fortune’s spindle or climbing euonymus) was introduced to North America in 1907 for use as a ground cover. In fact, it can be found just outside the Carnegie Museum, around the parking garage. It can escape cultivation, to establish and become naturalized (sometimes invasive) in the Eastern United States. Wintercreeper is a fast-growing woody vine which has evergreen leaves. Wintercreeper is recognized as invasive by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR), with potential to cause ecological harm in natural areas (link).
Herbarium specimens are valuable resources to study invasive species -- not only to monitor changes through time (since introduction) and to track its spread across the US, but also to compare to populations growing in the native range. Much untapped potential in herbaria worldwide for understanding species invasions.
Stumbled upon this neat little book from 100 years ago in the Botany library, which promotes the use of this plant as an ornamental. The book was published in 1917, ten years after wintercreeper was introduced to the US. Many states (including PA) now recognize this species as problematic or having the potential to become invasive. [note: Evonymus radicans is a synonym for Euonymus fortunei var. radicans]
Below: Euonymus this morning outside the museum. Probably not much photosynthesis happening this winter morning, given it is 0 °F (feels like -18°F)!