A herbarium is a curated collection of pressed and dried plant specimens. Each herbarium specimen is accompanied by a label indicating its geographical origin, collection date and the ecology of the plant noted at the collection site. Herbaria provide a record of all the plant species discovered so far in the world, as well as of the particular plants growing in a certain geographical area.
Because dried plants preserve indefinitely their structure and biochemistry, a herbarium is a huge repository of data: morphological, palynological (pollen characteristics), anatomical, biochemical, forensic, ethnobotanical and molecular. Studies based on such data must cite the herbarium specimens used to allow for future verifications or new studies. Herbaria are thus an indispensable resource for both research and teaching botany.
The Wilfrid Laurier University Herbarium was established in 1963 by Arnold Wellwood as a teaching resource for the plant courses held in the university. Over the years, the collection has also grown through his research on the flora survey of southern Ontario. As a result of Wellwood and his students' efforts, the Laurier Herbarium holdings represent a valuable collection for southern Ontario plant diversity, which is often used by specialists in different taxonomic groups from all over the world. Other historical collections housed in the herbarium include those of D. Weber, T. T. McIntosh, W. Y. Watson and T. Beechey.
Since 2005, the herbarium has added several thousand specimens of parasitic plants through the research of Associate Professor Mihai Costea and his students on the diversity and evolution of Cuscuta (dodders). The herbarium currently holds the world unique type specimens for 16 new species of Cuscuta (dodders) discovered during the last few years. Specimens from other groups of flowering plants collected during field expeditions to remote places in North and South America also represent valuable collections.
More recently, Associate Professor Jennifer Baltzer, Associate Professor Kevin Stevens and their students have added Northern Canada and aquatic ecology “flavours” to the taxonomic richness of the Laurier Herbarium. In addition, multiple species at risk research projects currently use the herbarium to determine and document the ecology and distribution of endangered plant species in Ontario and Canada, such as Virginia Mallow and Scarlet Ammannia (Stevens and Costea labs).
Overall the herbarium curates ca. 18,000 vascular plant specimens. In addition, there is a bryophyte and lichen collection of more than 3,000 specimens. Beside its internal use for research and teaching, the Laurier Herbarium is also employed by outside researchers who can visit the facility or request loans of the specimens through Index Herbariorum (the code for the Laurier Herbarium is “WLU”). Public members often request assistance with plant identification. Duplicates of the plant specimens collected by Laurier researchers are frequently exchanged with other herbaria in Canada and worldwide.
The Laurier Herbarium also hosts the Scanning Electron Microscopy facility of the university.
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