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W.P. Fraser Herbarium (SASK)
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan
51 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, SK, Canada     S7N 5A8
(306)966-4928      sask.herbarium@usask.ca
U of S

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Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS A HERBARIUM?

A herbarium (pronounced her-bare'-ee-um) is a museum or library of plants used for reference and research.

HOW ARE THE PLANTS STORED?

Herbaria consist of collections of pressed and dried plant specimens that are mounted with labels on firm paper-boards. The labels have the plant names, collection localities, habitats, frequencies and dates, and the collector's name and number.

WOULDN'T LIVE PLANTS BE MORE USEFUL IN BOTANICAL RESEARCH?

While the dead dried herbarium plants may seem unattractive when compared with living green plants, they represent a large amount of plants from a wide geographical range that can be accessed quickly. To try and grow all of the plants found in the herbarium in a greenhouse would be impossible!

WHO IS ALLOWED TO USE THE HERBARIUM?

Advanced students, and researchers are allowed direct use of the main collection, but only upon curatorial approval and after instruction on proper herbarium usage. The main research and reference collection is restricted to those with herbarium training because of the fragility of the specimens combined with their high research and archival value. Historical and type specimens, for example, are irreplaceable and invaluable, but equally so may be records of rare species or unusual variants.

WHAT IS THE EDUCATION FUNCTION OF THE HERBARIUM?

By allowing students access to the herbarium, students can see examples of different kinds of plants and their families. Students study the external morphological characteristics, ecological adaptations, evolutionary trends, and species variability. Examples of characteristic plants of different biomes over the world can often be seen in herbaria.

The W.P. Fraser Herbarium owns a teaching collection, consisting of over 3000 specimens. The teaching collection is used for class material and demonstrations. Many of these specimens are mounted on harder boards and are plastic-covered for increased durability.

WHAT PUBLIC SERVICE ROLES DOES THE HERBARIUM HAVE?

As herbaria at most public institutions, the Fraser Herbarium serves a public service role through:

* providing expert plant identifications
* offering of information about plants, and
* facilities and resources for plant study.

HOW ARE THE PLANT SPECIMENS USED IN RESEARCH?

The collection is used in several ways

  • The plant specimens in the collections act as "original documents" in the definition of each plant species.
  • These herbarium collections represent a data source for taxonomic, floristic and ecological research. This includes:

            studying variations, distributions, frequencies, habitats, phenology

  • The Fraser Herbarium collections are actively used for such research, both in-house by local and visiting scientists, and through numerous requested specimen loans (over 1000 specimens per year) to researchers at other institutions.
  • The Fraser Herbarium is a provincially focused collection, which represents the primary documentation of Saskatchewan's natural flora. All larger, active herbaria hope to contain authentically identified specimens that represent species in different locations, seasons, and habitats.
  • The collection is a basic reference for all regional floral manuals, wildflower books, and other botanical publications.
  • Our initial and often only verifiable knowledge of rare and endangered native plants derives from herbarium records.
  • One important function is to serve as repositories for voucher plant specimens that verify the identity of the species reported in botanical studies.

If you have any questions not answered here e-mail the herbarium technician and we will try and answer them for you.