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No. 138 June 5, 1996
aceska at freenet.victoria.bc.ca Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2
SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT DATABASES IN HERBARIA
From: Weber William A <weberw at spot.Colorado.EDU>
A relatively small computer database that herbarium COLO was
able to put together with Tim Hogan's and Dina Clark's help, is
a godsend to us. All that we did was to search the herbarium for
one voucher specimen each for every species that occurs in any
Colorado county (there are 66 as you know). This list can be
retrieved for any county. What we get out of this is that if
anybody goes into a county and wants to collect, here is a list
of the things we already have, and they can take this list with
them to avoid duplication. Fortunately, we have the field books
of our major collectors and can check their itineraries very
easily to find out where they really were. Considering that long
ago, when I assessed our coverage by selecting the lilies, which
are easy to see and collect, and predictable as to their occur-
rence, I found we had 19 per cent of expected. I suppose that
now we are probably close to 30 per cent. We certainly can be
more efficient in the future. I think that "computerization" of
collections should arise from a real need, not to just get
Brownie points with your fellow curators and administrators.
I do not go along with total computerization. At the present
time the COLO herbarium people are doing only the Colorado
collections. They copy all of the information on the specimen,
and try to interpret the handwritten labels. I find that the
current crop of students have a very hard time with them, prob-
ably because they have never had to read handwritten things, and
may rarely have used the pen themselves. I have to do a lot of
interpretation for them because I know almost every sheet that
goes into the place, and many of the collectors. As far as I
know, this job will take several years and use a lot of money
and time on the part of the herbarium budget and the students,
Here are the points that need to be considered very carefully
before embarking on total computerization:
1. Remember that there are two parts of the job; doing the
entries and proofreading them. These chores have to be done
at two different times. The entering clerk cannot be ex-
pected to proof the work. The files have to be retrieved
again for proofing, and often the sheets are not in the same
order as when they were entered.
2. Time and money are deeply involved. In our case, with the
coverage as light as it still is, money would better be
spent by sending people into the field to collect, using the
small data base mentioned above.
3. The project has to be envisioned as continuing indefinitely
into the future. When the money dries up, the project stops.
4. If the person entering gets sick, or leaves, and there is
time away from the machine, new specimens pile up and cannot
be placed in the herbarium files until someone gets them
entered. This is what I call a bottleneck. Herbaria have
enough unfinished work sitting on the tables and do not need
5. There is something to be said for entering new material into
the computer at the time the labels are produced. This
applies to start-up herbaria at least. I am talking about an
herbarium with half a million specimens all needing entry.
6. If any specimen has its name changed or is placed elsewhere,
the computer needs to be told about it.
7. Regardless of how much is put into a database, the specimen
itself may eventually have to be consulted. The data base
never contains detailed descriptions of the actual specimen.
Identifications cannot be accepted on their face values.
Some administrators think that once you have a data base,
the collection becomes superfluous; nothing could be farther
from the truth.
The big question, which really should always be before the
people who give out the money, is this. Will the users of such a
data base ever pay our herbarium proportionately for the infor-
mation they get out of it? I think the answer is obvious. They
will expect to get it free of charge. If I were a fiscal officer
of the university I would insist that there be a quid pro quo,
but what administrator knows anything about an herbarium except
that it costs a great deal to maintain it? In his eyes the space
it occupies would be very useful for some other discipline. This
is one reason why herbaria are being given away. Paradoxically,
the herbarium manager is encouraged to believe that computeriza-
tion is a magic formula that will make the herbarium more re-
spectable in the eyes of an administrator and ones scientific
colleagues in other institutions.
NEW ALIEN PLANTS OF YUKON ROADSIDES
From: Bruce Bennett <bennettb at ywc.yk.doe.ca>
The Yukon has seen several significant foreign invasions in the
last 150 years: the fur trade, the Gold Rush, and the building
of the Alaska highway, to name a few. With each of these events,
some have stayed and adapted to the harsh northern environment,
others have simply disappeared. Along with the new residents
came many new animals and plants. This invasion continues to
this day. I am part of this invasion, having moved to the Yukon
last year. Since my arrival, I have started to locate other
invaders who may be overlooked, the vegetative invaders, the
Many of these plants are familiar to most Yukoners. The
lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl.) only came to the Yukon
about 500 years ago or so and continues to move north and
westward. Sweet clover (Melilotus alba Desr.) and alfalfa
(Medicago sativa L.) are familiar to travelers of our highways.
Others are relatively unknown and their distributions poorly
understood. Since my arrival at least five new species have been
added to our knowledge of the flora of the Yukon. Four turned up
in the area of Haines Junction and were brought to me by Lloyd
Freese of the National Park Service. He realized that the plants
were unusual, finding them growing along the highway. All proved
to be new species and included: Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.),
creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense [L.] Scop.), diffuse knapweed
(Centaurea diffusa Lam.) and salsify (Tragopogon dubius Scop.).
Perhaps the most exciting discovery was of the chick-pea milk-
vetch (Astragalus cicer L.). This is a very showy perennial of
the pea family. It was found on a roadside in the extreme
southeast corner of the Yukon near the LaBiche river blooming on
June 10 last year. It had ascending to suberect stems (5) 25-60
(100) cm and large racemes of yellow flowers crowded into ovoid
heads. Leaflets 8-15 pairs. It has broad stipules. From the
remnants of the previous year, I found hairy black marble-sized
10-15 mm inflated pods. Most species that are this large and
colourful are also very easily identifiable, however I was
unable to locate this species in any of the surrounding floras.
I spotted the same species along the windswept Haines road near
the B.C./Yukon border. It was still blooming in October while
the first snow was falling. This only added to my confusion.
Surely a plant that is this widespread cannot be too hard to
identify? My search finally ended this February. While on vaca-
tion in Victoria I visited the Royal B.C. Museum. I talked to
Chris Brayshaw who remarked that he had found a species similar
to my description near Ft. Nelson several years ago. Likewise,
he was unable to find a description in any North American Flora
and finally located it in the Flora Europaea. With the assis-
tance of John Pinder-Moss, the biological collections manager at
the herbarium, we finally located it in the collections. This
plant comes from Belgium and north-central Russia southwards to
northern Spain and Bulgaria although it is known to occasionally
naturalize farther north. According to the Atlas of North
American Astragalus Part II, Astragalus cicer is widely dis-
persed in moist grassy places, along streams and ditches, in
hedges, and in open woodland over most of continental Europe. It
was introduced in the United States for trial as a cover or
forage crop, reportedly naturalized in Whatcom County,
Washington, in southern Manitoba, near Brandon and possibly in
northestern Nevada. The Vascular Plants of British Columbia
reports the occurrence in B.C. as being rare found in Coquitlam
and Williams Lake, and also reports their flower colour as
white. I will have to return to the Haines road this summer to
determine if this species also ranges south into B.C.
Barneby, R.C. 1964. Atlas of North American Astragalus Part II.
The Ceridothrix, Hypoglottis, Piptolodoid, Trimeniaeus and
Orophaca Astragali. Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 13:597-1188.
Douglas, G.W., G.B. Straley, and D. Meidinger (eds.). 1989.
Vascular Plants of British Columbia: Dicotyledons (Diapen-
siaceae through Portulacaceae). Special report series,
British Columbia Ministry of Forests, number 2. Crown Publi-
cations. Victoria, B.C.
Tutin, T.G., V.H. Heywood, N.A. Burgess, D.M. Moore, D.H. Valen-
tine, S.M. Walters and D.A. Webb. (eds.). 1964-1980. Flora
Europaea Vol.2, Rosaceae to Umbelliferae. Cambridge Univer-
sity Press. p.114
FLORA OF THE RUSSIAN ARCTIC VOL. I - AN INTERESTING ANACHRONISM
From: Adolf Ceska <aceska at freenet.victoria.bc.ca>
I bought the first volume (Pteridophytes to Butomaceae) of the
Arctic Flora USSR when I was a graduate student at the Charles
University in Prague in 1960. I was thrilled by the fresh
taxonomic treatment of the Russian North and I immediately
subscribed the series in the "Soviet Book" bookstore in Prague.
My excitement did not last too long. Somebody pinched my copy of
the Pteridophytes and the "Soviet Book" ignored my subscription.
Nevertheless, with the help of my friends and booksellers like
Koeltz and Scientia I managed to gather at least the most impor-
tant volumes of the Arctic Flora. Some taxonomic treatments,
especially those by Yurtzev and Tzvelev, are still useful and
The University of Alberta Press started to publish the English
translation of the Arctic Flora of the USSR and the first volume
appeared last year. It contains Polypodiaceae - Butomaceae
(originally published in 1960), and Gramineae (originally pub-
lished in 1964). The treatment of pteridophytes is rather stale
and that of grasses was superceded by Tzvelev's "Grasses of the
USSR." In spite of this, the translation of the Arctic Flora
should be praised since it makes this important work accessible
to the broad English-speaking audience. The translation will
have six volumes, the last one will appear in 1998.
Flora of the Russian Arctic. Volume 1. Translated from the
original Russian "Arkticheskaya Flora SSSR" by G.C.D. Grif-
fiths, edited by J.G. Packer. University of Alberta Press,
Edmonton. 1995. 330 p. ISBN 0-88864-269-5 [hard cover] Price:
Submissions, subscriptions, etc.: aceska at freenet.victoria.bc.ca
BEN is archived on gopher freenet.victoria.bc.ca. The URL is:
Also archived at http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/