Collection of plant specimens
What is a herbarium?
A herbarium is a collection of plant specimens. The specimens have to be dried and preserved, and then pressed. They are then mounted onto paper and usually labelled with details of where and when they were collected. The history of collecting herbariums goes back over 500 years.
Herbariums are very useful as they can tell us where certain plants grew in the past, and allows scientists to study them. Since 1981, it has been illegal to collect or uproot wildflowers in the UK, so many of the specimens kept in herbariums are now very rare or even extinct.
Craven Museum’s herbarium is kept in our temperature and humidity-controlled store. Because chemicals like arsenic were sometimes used to help preserve plant specimens, we have to be very careful when handling our herbarium pages.
Who collected Craven Museum’s herbarium?
Craven Museum’s herbarium contains over 2,000 plant and moss samples. The samples were collected across the period 1839-1953 by different people. Many of them were members of the Craven Naturalists and Scientific Association, who were one of the founding groups of Craven Museum. Specimens were sometimes sent to Kew Gardens for identification before they were added to the herbarium.
The herbarium consists primarily of specimens from the UK, and particularly the Craven area. It is believed that local plant collectors pooled their private collections together at the museum by the 1940s. These private collectors included J.N. Frankland, Lister Rotheray and T.W. Edmondson.
Thomas Henry Holmes was another of these original contributors. He was born in Skipton in 1869 and worked at Dewhurst’s cotton mill, studying botany in his free time. His collection formed the core of Craven Museum’s herbarium.
What are some notable specimens from the herbarium?
With so many samples, we have many specimens of rare plants. Some of these are still common elsewhere in the country, but are now no longer known to grow in Craven.
Our herbarium contains specimens of several orchid species that are now considered some of the rarest wildflowers in the UK. This includes cypripedium calceolus or Lady’s Slipper Orchid. This sample was collected in Kettlewell in 1929, and is now some of the only evidence of how abundantly the species used to grow in Craven.
Because herbarium specimens are very sensitive to light, they are difficult to display. We have a herbarium display in Craven Museum which is kept in a drawer, with samples changed every year for visitors to see.