Written by Violet Nicholls, Assistant Curator (Herbarium), Portsmouth Museums.
Plants, lichens and fungi have captured the interests of collectors, scientists and artists for centuries, and I have discovered something about them for myself. As time passes from them being found in the field, they don’t get any less complicated, any less fascinating or any less beautiful. I am about 6 months into a two-year project working on the Guermonprez Herbarium called “Flora Explorer”, which is funded by the Headley Trust.
I have been cataloguing and studying the plant, fungi and lichen collections at Portsmouth Museums, and am learning a huge amount about past collecting practices, as well as taxonomy and the collectors themselves. There were so many! Sixty-two different names have cropped up whilst cataloguing the herbarium, with nearly 1000 plant specimens recorded on the database so far. There are around 10,000 plants in the Guermonprez Herbarium in total. How many more names will appear?
Henry Leopold Foster Guermonprez (1858-1924) was a taxidermist, ornithologist and “a botanist who should have been better known”.1 The herbarium is made up of plants collected by Guermonprez and members of his family, plants that were sent to him, and others that were purchased. The large collection was transferred from Bognor Regis Museum to Portsmouth Museum in the 1970’s. Many specimens were collected from West Sussex, where I have lived for most of my life.
“Flora Explorer” builds on work carried out during the “Wild about Portsmouth” project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The herbarium is organised into taxonomic order, stored in sealed herbarium cabinets, and the specimens are being catalogued using the relational database used by over 650 museums in the UK, Modes Complete. Digitising the collection has many benefits as it increases access for researchers, and for people who may need the data but can only obtain it remotely. Through the process I have also been updating the taxonomy where necessary, which adds further value to the collection.