Brain Food: Dried Plant Research Collection
Northern Arizona University is home to a giant collection of dried plant specimens that scientists across the globe use as a resource center. The Deaver Herbarium is essentially a plant museum that holds more than 120 thousand samples from the Southwest, some gathered more than 100 years ago. Biologist Tina Ayers is the director and curator.
“This herbarium is first and foremost a research facility,” she says. “And so, we provide service for anyone who needs to know what a plant is. They can come in here with a plant that they don’t know and we’ll identify for them. We identify things for anybody: for Park Service, Forest Service people come in sometimes to use the facility where we help them identify specimens. But most of the researchers are botanical systematists from the U.S. or Latin America or Europe that are doing ecological studies.”
Ayers says scientists from around the world send her boxes of dried plants, hoping she can help identify them. She rehydrates the samples with a little warm water so they look more lifelike and can be easily dissected and studied.
“So if they can’t identify specimens themselves, they send me duplicates as gifts for identification, and sometimes they only have one like this one and they can’t figure out what it is, and I look at it and if I know all the species and that genus and I don’t recognize that, then potentially it’s a species that’s new to science,” Ayres says.
NAU’s Deaver Herbarium has become increasingly utilized by climate scientists as a way to understand changing landscapes of the last century.