Field Event Reports

26 November 2015 - Oxford University Herbarium

Leader: Dr. Stephen Harris, Keeper of the Fielding-Druce and Daubeny Herbari

On a dark Thursday evening ten AbNats members gathered at the Oxford University Department of Plant Sciences and were met by Dr. Stephen Harris, Keeper of the Fielding-Druce and Daubeny Herbaria. Established in 1621, they include the oldest herbarium in the United Kingdom and the fourth oldest herbarium in the world. Collectively, they hold approximately 1,000,000 botanical specimens (including at least 35,000 types) from across all taxonomic groups and geographic regions. Four of the more significant pre-19th century herbaria are those of Robert Morison (1620-83), William Sherard (1659-1728), Johannus Dillenius (1684-1747) and John Sibthorp (1758-96). The type-rich Fielding Herbarium was bequeathed to the University by Henry Borron Fielding (1805-1851), and contains all non-British material collected since 1796. The collection of British plants centres around the herbarium of George Claridge Druce (1850-1932). Stephen took us first to the Fielding-Druce Herbarium which houses the collection of herbaceous plants. He had laid out a number of important specimens on the tables and proceeded to explain the origin and significance of each one. Among them were:

    1. The book herbarium of Gregorio a Reggio, the oldest herbarium in the UK. Material was collected from around Bologna in at the end of the 16th century (complete volume has a date of 1606).
    2. A specimen ofSwainsona Formosa,the brilliant red Sturt's Desert Pea collected by the privateer William Dampier in Shark Bay (Western Australia) in August 1699.
    3. Specimens of Nicotiana tabacum (tobacco), Solanum tuberosum (potato) and Zea mays (maize) collected at the end of the seventeenth century. They are early specimens of these New World plants.
    4. Specimen of Liparis loeselii (fen orchid) collected by Alfred Fryer from the Cambridgeshire site to illustrate the negative effects of heavy collecting from one population over time. There was also a sheet of Epipogium aphyllum (ghost orchid), an even rarer species illustrating the same effect.
    5. An early eighteenth-century specimen of Senecio squalidus (Oxford Ragwort) collected by Jacob Bobart from the Oxford Physic Garden. He brought it to the garden soon after its introduction from Sicily in about 1701, and from there it spread first to walls and buildings in Oxford and then throughout Britain along railway tracks.
    6. A page of specimens collected by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle in the early 1830s.

Lower plants were also represented, including a sheet of lichens from the herbarium of Johann Dillenius made in the 1730s, a sheet of marine algae which had retained their coloration (including a bright pink specimen) remarkably well, and a sheet of fungi which included a beautiful spore print from a species of Cortinarius, and some sections of fruiting bodies prepared by an early but extremely accurate microtome technique.

Michael Bloom