HomepageLibraryDigital Herbaria Reveal Early Botany Studies at Ursinus College

Digital Herbaria Reveal Early Botany Studies at Ursinus College

Five newly digitized collections of preserved flowers and plants collected in Montgomery County and Berks County contribute to the long history of environmental education and advocacy at Ursinus College.

Taught from the founding of the College, botany appears in the listings of the very first Ursinus College Catalogue in 1869. In the College Catalogue of 1881-1891, the course is described in some detail under the Natural Science listings for the Collegiate Department: “A course in the botany of flowering plants. Each student, as soon as convenient, plants a box-garden with seeds of our common grains and grasses, for the purpose of studying the development of the embryo. He studies, by the aid of specimens, Gray’s Lessons as far as to page 128, when he takes up Systematic Botany, analyzing fifty species of plants and preparing thirty native species as specimens for his herbarium. The student must present, at his examination, his herbarium, with the specimens neatly mounted and correctly labeled. Sophomore required course.”

So what exactly is an herbarium? Herbaria are collections of pressed dried and preserved plants, often including roots, stems, leaves and flowers. The plants are mounted on paper and labeled with species information as well as the date and place of collection. While learning the taxonomy of plants was of primary importance in the past, today researchers can use herbaria to study ecology, biodiversity and conservation biology. The Ursinusiana archives contains five student herbaria dating from 1884 to 1892. One herbarium contains additional plants collected in 1901 in Berks County. Herbaria, 1884-1901 was created by Ursinus student Bri Lambright, Class of 2024, who works as a digitization and metadata assistant in Myrin Library. Digitizing these items provides an open educational resource for the public and also contributes to their long-term preservation, since online access means less need for handling of the fragile physical specimens.

But it wasn’t just students who long ago collected and studied plants at Ursinus College. Whorten A. Kline, who graduated from Ursinus in 1893 and served as Dean of the College from 1909 to 1946, was an avid researcher who studied plants found along the Perkiomen Creek and saved the original sycamore tree that lived quite adjacent to the football field. His studies were published in 1924 as A Preliminary List of the Flora of the Perkiomen Region. Even our first President, John H. A. Bomberger, was known to collect and preserve plants and flowers on his travels – and perhaps in his spare time around campus. See this souvenir from an 1884 trip to Switzerland and a collection of pressed leaves discovered in his personal library.

We hope you’ll remember Ursinus College’s long history of botanical studies whenever you explore today’s sustainable Food Forest or hike along the Perkiomen Trail!

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Andy Prock
Associate Director
Preservation, Digitization & Discovery Services
Myrin Library

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