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History in Plants

flower


PHOTOGRAPHED BY VICTOR SHIELDS

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Think of it as an encyclopedia of plants that were once alive. In the West Virginia University Herbarium, you’ll find more than 200,000 vascular plant, bryophyte (including moss) and lichen specimens catalogued, along with thousands of seeds and photographic slides. Since 1889, volunteers and staff have gathered plant specimens, noting location and date, to give a history of plants in West Virginia and elsewhere in the world.

The herbarium has the only recorded samples of hundreds of rare and endangered plants and its collection is used for research by the likes of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and the National Park Service.

Visit the Herbarium online.


Plants in the herbarium collection.

From top left: 1. C rimsoneyed rosemallow,  Hibiscus moscheutos . 2. Meadow beauty, Rhexia virginica. 3. Common serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea. 4. American tree moss, Climacium americanum. 5. B ushy beard lichen,  Usnea strugisa . 6. W olf lichen,  Letharia vulpina .  7. Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria . 8. Jerusalem sage, Phlomis fruticosa. 9. Loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus.


Donna Ford-Werntz


DONNA FORD-WERNTZ Herbarium Curator

HER PICKS: 

Meadow Beauty, Rhexia virginica

Common Serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea


Meadow Beauty is a tuberous perennial species of open, moist areas that has been documented from only 14 counties in West Virginia. It was last collected in 2001 in Marion County, but has not been reported for Monongalia County since 1913 (1905 in Preston Co.). The plant has a square stem, opposite leaves and lovely flowers with four magenta petals blooming July to September.  


Common Serviceberry is a small tree species that has been documented from all 55 West Virginia counties. The showy five-petaled white flowers appear March to May, before the leaves. Fleshy red-purple fruits in June and July are eaten by birds and can be used for jam and pie. Its fall red-orange leaf color adds landscape appeal to the plant.


Sue Studlar


SUE MOYLE STUDLAR Visiting Associate Professor of Biology

HER PICKS:

Bushy Beard Lichen, Usnea strigosa 
Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina


I have encountered these two beautiful, shrubby (fruticose) lichens in nature, and have long been fascinated by their differing appearance, chemistry and ecology. Both evoke memories of hiking high in the mountains where fruticose lichens drink in fog: Bushy Beard in misty Appalachian forests and Wolf Lichen in drier pine forests in the Cascade Mountains. 


Bushy Beard is among the few lichens that have caterpillar mimics: the larvae of an uncommon moth feed on this light green, spiky, mildly poisonous lichen (usnic acid) and are protected from herbivory by nearly perfect camouflage. Wolf Lichen is an almost fluorescent greenish yellow due to a toxin (vulpinic acid) that was traditionally used for both arrow poisons and yellow dyes. Recent genetic studies suggest that European Wolf Lichens were originally migrants from Western North America.


Victor Shields


VICTOR SHIELDS Graduate Assistant 

HIS PICKS:

American Tree Moss Climacium americanum

Jerusalem Sage Phlomis fruticosa


Climacium is one of my favorite woodland mosses I remember crawling over as a kid near my Pennsylvania home. These little tree-like puffs grow upright in radiating clumps near shaded streams and damp forests throughout Appalachia. Their vibrant wispy branches might even remind you of Dr. Seuss' colorful trees his Lorax tried so adamantly to protect. The herbarium, in addition to native collections like these, houses a number of foreign plants that can be accessed without traveling abroad. 


Exotic Phlomis is a beautiful member of the rosemary and mint family, native to the arid Mediterranean. Cultivated as a woody garden element in warmer climates, this herbaceous shrub boasts fuzzy sage-like leaves and produces terraced clusters of bright yellow flowers. This particular specimen was collected from the Cape in South Africa, one of the planet's most floristically diverse regions!