Herbarium in Focus - Exhibition to bring to life the power of Plants

3 October 19

Herbarium in Focus, a free exhibition in Ireland’s National Herbarium at the National Botanic Gardens was officially opened today by Office of Public Works (OPW) Commissioner, John McMahon. The purpose of the exhibition is to showcase the key role herbarium’s play in our understanding of the natural environment and to encourage public participation in this important resource.

A herbarium is a collection of preserved, dried and pressed plant specimens and the National Herbarium contains a unique archive of some 600,000 preserved herbarium specimens dating from as early as 1661.  Herbari play a central role in the discovery of new plant species and crucially they also hold evidence of the response of plants to environmental changes.  Herbarium specimens can show how plants are adapting to environmental changes as well as the impact that humans are having on the landscape.

Visitors to the exhibition at the National Herbarium will have an opportunity to learn about the ongoing process of pressing and drying plants, see specimens collected from as far back as the 17th century and see how we are still learning from the specimens through DNA extraction.  As part of the Office of Public Works’ mission to promote awareness of the work of the National Herbarium,  members of the public are also invited to bring plant specimens which they would like to have identified to the National Herbarium where staff on site will aim to help them in that process.

Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, Mr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran TD, said “The National Herbarium is a place of science and a place of history; a genealogy research centre that can help us learn about the future and a plant museum that links us to our past.  The purpose of this exhibition at the National Herbarium is to open up this incredible space and knowledge to the public, with a view to increasing our understanding of the power of plants.

We are also inviting members of the public who may be puzzling over a particular plant they have come across to bring it to the National Herbarium where the staff will endeavour to help them.  As we all become more aware of the importance of protecting and promoting Ireland’s rich biodiversity, I hope this initiative will be an important step towards that.”

There are in the region of 600,000 individual specimens held in the National Herbarium, a museum collection of over 7,500 items along with a collection of seeds, DNA and plant tissues that complement the collections.  Key collections in the National Herbarium include the work of female pioneering scientist Matilda Knowles and specimens that Roger Casement brought back to Dublin from the Congo while on a mission there to report to the British government on the Belgian colonial regime.

Opening the exhibition, OPW Commissioner Mr John McMahon, said “The art of pressing and drying a specimen is something that will feel familiar to most children who have tucked a flower away in a heavy book.  What has changed is what we are now able to learn from the huge archive of specimens which have been catalogued over centuries.  Each individual herbarium specimen is considered to be a snapshot in time and here in the National Herbarium we are capable of retrieving DNA from specimens retrieved by botanists in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and see what is changing and why.  It is endlessly fascinating to think that botanists in the field 150 years ago were effectively sampling for us here in 2019.”

To find out more about the National Herbarium go to www.botanicgardens.ie. Entry to the Botanic Gardens and the National Herbarium is free of charge.

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Note to Editors

The National Botanic Gardens were established in 1795 by the Dublin Society and passed into State control in 1877. They are currently administered by the Office of Public Works and comprise of the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin and the Arboretum at Kilmacurragh.  The Herbarium was founded in 1847, and was formerly part of the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.  In 1970 the herbarium was transferred to the Botanic Gardens and amalgamated with the smaller Garden’s herbarium (DUB).  At the same time, the museum of economic botany, also founded by the Dublin Society, was transferred to the National Botanic Gardens from the National Museum.

Research in the herbarium includes work on the distribution and taxonomy of the Irish flora and the flora of south-east Asia.  As well as providing an identification service to the Botanic Gardens, and the public, the herbarium also produces several publications each year.  These include the journals Glasra, Contributions from the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, and Occasional Papers.  These journals are distributed in exchange for journals from museums and Botanic Gardens around the world.