I’ve been thinking about herbaria for several weeks now, ever since I went to an all day seminar put on by the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) a few weeks ago.
A herbarium is a collection of plant specimens that have been pressed and preserved, flattened on to sheets of paper, with notations on where and when they were found. They provide a good historical record of plants if well done and well preserved.
There were two speakers at the seminar, both botanists, who talked about how they use the plant specimens in herbaria for their research. In particular, I was fascinated by how each plant specimen shows us how a plant used to be, and if the collector made good notes, where it was when first discovered and collected.
These thoughts of herbaria plus the upcoming holiday season, led me to wonder what a native Euphorbia pulcherrima, the Christmas poinsettia, looks like and if there are collected specimens in herbaria around the world. Surely there are. I would love to see one. I’m certain that where poinsettia grows wild it comes in one color, red, and not the wide variety of colors that breeders have developed over the decades. I’m also guessing that the bracts surrounding the flowers are not quite as full and large as the cultivated poinsettias. And definitely wild growing poinsettia haven’t been all tarted up with glitter and infusions of blue and purple dyes.
I looked and looked online and found one picture of a collected specimen of E. pulcherrima, but it appeared to be from a specimen growing in Hawaii in 2004. Poinsettia are actually natives of Mexico, not Hawaii. “Phooey”, as my friend Gail who sponsors Wildflower Wednesday on her blog, Clay and Limestone, would say. It looked like a Christmas poinsettia.
I decided to continue my quest by searching through books on Google to see if there was an old book that included a picture of a native poinsettia. No such luck, though I did find a lovely book, Our Garden Flowers: A Popular Study of Their Native Lands, Their Life Histories and Their Structural Affiliations by Harriet Louise Keeler (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1910). You should see the cover on this book. It has gold lettering on a green background.
Alas, Keeler did not include a picture of the poinsettia in her book, but did note that it was introduced by Dr. Charles Poinsett of Charleston, South Carolina around 1833.
I suspect I would need to find an actual specimen in a herbarium that dated back to 1833 to get an idea of what a wild poinsettia looked like back before anyone had a chance to breed the wild out of it. Or maybe go on a journey to the wilderness of Mexico. That’s not likely to happen, but what is likely to happen is that I’ll end up finding a good copy of Our Garden Flowers: A Popular Study of Their Native Lands, Their Life Histories and Their Structural Affiliations by Harriet Louise Keeler and buy it. Did I mention the pretty green cover with gold lettering on it? Did I mention Keeler also wrote several other books about native plants?
Did I mention this is my contribution to Wildflower Wednesday?