Tiina and Andy are back safe and sound, and all back to normal in the office (actually they came back a while ago, I have just been really busy!!). A few days ago, though, the plants came from Peru and are out of the freezer and now ready to label up and get into the herbarium!
Labels detailing the place of collection and characteristics of the particular plant were already made and placed on the specimens we left behind in Lima for the museum there (see Tiina’s earlier post), a typical botanical specimen label looks like this one below….. (this is one from a specimen in our herbarium that I used to describe Solanum coalitum, a very cool Ecuadorian endemic found only in one little patch of páramo, you can see its description on Solanaceae Source at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/solanaceaesource/taxonomy/description-detail.jsp?spnumber=7861)
So now we need to print the labels out and then the plant mounters take over to produce the beautiful specimens we will use to compare with others we have on loan from all over the world. This is Sue Higgins, one of the team, working in the old building - now the team live onthe 5th floor of the Darwin Centre with us - lots of light and space!
In order to study a group in detail we borrow plant specimens from many other herbaria. We then compare characteristics on the specimens, figure out the range of variation in what we will call a species, and then – and very importantly – annotate the specimens before we return them to the institutions from whom we borrowed them. This last step can be time-consuming, but it is a courtesy to our sister institutions who have allowed us to use their material – our science works on a sort of barter system – we all help each other, or at least try!