200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 199: “Plants From Our Own Backyard ”

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two herbarium sheets from the Academy's local herbarium
Two herbarium sheets from the Local Herbarium. The sheet on the left contains two specimens of Lillium philadelphicum that were collected by Edwin B. Bartram on July 14, 1917, in Pike County, Pennsylvania. The one on the right contains six specimens of Linaria canadensis collected by Alicia N. Buchanan, Walter F. Bein, and Michael Zolkewitz on May 4, 2003, from the Warren Grove Gunnery Range in the Pine Barrens of Ocean County, New Jersey.

Plants From Our Own Backyard

The Academy’s herbarium not only has an impressive collection of plants from around the globe, but it also has a number of specimens from a bit closer to home. The Philadelphia Botanical Club and its affiliated Local Herbarium, home to thousands of local flora specimens, has a long-standing relationship with the Academy. The Philadelphia Botanical Club was founded in 1891 “to further the interests of Botany and to make a checklist and herbarium of the plants found within the radius of fifty miles from Philadelphia.” This resulted in the creation of the Academy’s Local Herbarium, an exceptionally comprehensive and long-term collection of local plants.

The Local Herbarium, now integrated with the Academy’s Worldwide Herbarium, provides a comprehensive record of flora of the Philadelphia region. The Herbarium’s first specimens, representing most of the locally known species of the time, were accepted from the Isaac C. Martindale collection by the 19 members of the Botanical Club on December 22, 1891. The collection quickly grew in size, beginning with club-sponsored field trips to study local flora. The first trip to Bartram’s Gardens took place on February 14, 1892, and the Academy’s holdings of local plants have continued to grow ever since thanks to collecting trips and the donations of valuable collections from noted botanists.

Bayard Long (1885–1969) is chiefly responsible for making the Local Herbarium one of the best in the world. He collected local plants and curated the Academy’s Local Herbarium for more than 60 years without being paid for his work. His father, John Luther Long, was a Broadway playwright and author of the short story upon which Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” is based. When Mr. Long died in 1969, he donated his estate, which because of his father’s wealth was substantial, to the Academy. The Botany Department continues to benefit from the endowed funds provided by Mr. Long.

Today, the Academy’s Local Herbarium contains one of the most extensive and comprehensive collections of local plant specimens in the world. There are about 400,000 specimens from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. The Herbarium has been used by natural heritage programs from these states to pinpoint localities of rare plants over time and continues to be a valuable resource along with other collections housed in the Academy’s Department of Botany.

Interested in learning more about botany? Check out the Philadelphia Botanical Club’s website and read more of our 200 stories!

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