Citizen Science Journey: Introduction

Herbarium samples from Brown University
her·bar·i·um
/ˌ(h)ərˈberēəm/
noun
a systematically arranged collection of dried plants.

I am conducting my citizen science work through Zooniverse.org, which facilitates numerous opportunities in partnership with universities, parks, and other organizations. It’s a place to find projects like the one I’ve chosen: Mapping Change with the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History. The core task involves going through several herbarium sheets and transcribing them for archival purposes. They have all been digitized and uploaded, but the data is still mostly in analog. The ID cards are attached to the related specimen, and often the labels on the cards are partially hand-written.

Herbaria are used in several fields under the umbrella of botany in order to catalog and study plants in relation to the geographic locations where they are found. You can think of them as plant libraries, with actual plant specimens rather than photographs. This allows researchers to document plant migration over time. It can also help track conservation efforts and provide a collection of genetic material of plants which are increasingly rare. I have made my own informal herbaria in the past by pressing leaves and flowers into notebooks. It’s a great way to create references when you’re learning to identify new plants.

Because this project involves plant data, I’d like to highlight a species of interest each week. Not only will it increase my plant ID skills and vocabulary, but it may also offer me a way of better understanding the plants’ ecological niches in relation to the overall health of the landscapes to which they belong.

I hope someone somewhere finds the plant-related tidbits in this blog fascinating, or at least new and elucidating.