Trinidad and Tobago herbarium specimens join the botany collection

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Pitch lake

Pitch lake The recent acquisition to World Museum’s herbarium of 131 specimens from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago has been an interesting and welcome addition to Botany’s collection. Prior to acquiring this collection, we had less than 100 specimens from Trinidad and Tobago, the vast majority of these being a collection of grasses. Joanna Ostapkowicz, Curator of the Americas collections at World Museum, collected the herbarium specimens, along with colleagues on the islands, during field work for her research project on wooden artefacts that have been found in Trinidad’s Pitch Lake. The pressed plants arrived at World Museum unmounted and with an Excel spreadsheet containing all the collecting details – the what/when/where/who information concerning each sample that is required along with a herbarium sample to produce a good herbarium sheet. Botany staff and some of our volunteers all pitched in at various stages of processing the samples. Firstly, we had to freeze the specimens to kill off any potential insect pests before they come into the botany area. We were put to the test on how to mount some species. Being tropical, there were some very large leaved specimens and one or two interesting seedpods to deal with. The data from the spreadsheet had to be ‘cleaned’ and transferred to our database, the newly mounted specimens were photographed and added to the database so that it could be published online.

Elephant ear tree specimen

Enterolobium cyclocarpum is also known as 'elephant-ear tree' because of its woody seedpods As a botanist, I’ve enjoyed working on this collection. It’s not every day we get Caribbean specimens coming into the herbarium I’ve really enjoyed becoming more familiar with these tropical plants. It’s amazing what you learn when you’re documenting and researching a new collection, from the geography of the islands to the nutritional, economic and medicinal uses of the plants collected. Did you know, for instance, that Platymiscum species are the only plants in the Pea family with opposite leaves, or that oil from Carapa guianensis seeds can be used to repel mosquitos? My favourite snippet of information is about Enterolobium cyclocarpum, or ‘Guanacaste’. Again, it is from the Pea family, but it’s a plant whose seedpods give it another common name of ‘Elephant-ear tree’ due to the curved shape of the woody seedpods. They’re like the bigger, tougher cousins of our humble pea pods, but I’m sure you can see the similarities. Maybe I should go and collect some more of those Elephant-ear seedpods myself.

 See the Trinidad and Tobago plant collection now.