As a library for dried plant specimens, the University of Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain Herbarium collection houses more than 1.3 million specimens from around the world.
More than 25,000 new specimens are added to the collection each year, either donated to the herbarium or collected by UW students and faculty.
Before new specimens can be stored for future research, they must by sorted and mounted on archival paper. The job is too big for the herbarium’s curator, who is aided by several students, but that’s where volunteers can play a part.
“It’s a pretty important role for anybody who comes in from the community to help us out,” said Charmaine Delmatier, who directs the Rocky Mountain Herbarium Volunteer Program.
The volunteer program was started a year ago, and since then, volunteers have logged more than 5,000 hours, she said.
To celebrate the first year of the program and solicit more volunteers, an open house is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the herbarium, located on the third floor of the Aven Nelson Building. Refreshments will be served, and the event will include trivia and door prizes. Curator Ernie Nelson is scheduled to lead a workshop on how to identify native evergreen trees.
Nelson will show participants how to use a dissecting scope and follow a dichotomous key.
Delmatier said last year’s volunteer efforts were greatly appreciated, but there’s still more work to do.
“We still have a bottleneck in our processing system of getting these plants into the herbarium and into the cabinets, so that’s what we need help with,” she said.
No experience is needed on the part of volunteers, who will receive training.
“You don’t have to be a botanist to volunteer,” she said.
Jay Dierks and Barry Hildreth began volunteering last year after moving from Laramie to Denver in retirement. Dierks said they’re learning a lot about plants and they enjoy the people they work with.
“We’re newly retired and had cabin fever and wanted something to do,” he said. “This is a great option for people out there.”
The herbarium was founded by Aven Nelson in 1893 while he served as one of UW’s original faculty members. He was the university’s first librarian and also taught economic botany, zoology, animal physiology, hygiene, physical geography and calisthenics. Initial herbarium specimens came from trips Nelson took around Wyoming gathering plants.
Today the herbarium, the 10th largest in the country, houses the largest collection of Rocky Mountain species. Dried, pressed plants can be stored for more than 500 years, and the herbarium’s oldest specimen pre-dates 1812.
An expanded imaging laboratory allows digital images to be added to the herbarium website, with about 10 percent of the collection available that way so far.
“It’s a fantastic resource,” Delmatier said.
IF YOU GO ...
What: Rocky Mountain Herbarium open house and workshop
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Aven Nelson Building third floor
More info: 766-2236