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Thu, Jul 09

Plant collections in danger

Herbaria in North America are withering away. Collections of preserved plant specimens that have been accumulating for a century or more are being closed and consolidated as tight budgets and competition for space put pressure on universities to direct resources to facilities such as labs.

More than 100 North American herbaria have closed since 1997, leaving just over 600 remaining. The latest casualty came in May, when the University of Missouri in Columbia announced that it will close its Dunn-Palmer Herbarium, a 119-year-old collection of more than 170,000 plants and thousands of mosses, algae and fungi.

There is a perception that herbaria are dead places, says plant biologist Kathleen Pryer, who manages the herbarium at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. But far from being relics, botanists argue, these repositories of preserved specimens are relevant to today’s research.

Read more from Nature.