Conservancy preserves Island plants for research
The Catalina Island Conservancy’s herbarium is one of the Island’s best kept secrets. Located just outside the gates of the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, the herbarium is a small building that houses a treasure trove of about 3,000 preserved plant specimens from Catalina Island and the other Channel Islands.
Most are trees, shrubs and wildflowers, and many rare plants, found only on the Island or otherwise important to researchers. These preserved specimens give researchers a glimpse into the past and an opportunity to see how plants have evolved.
Researchers can study preserved specimens of plants collected in the early 1900s and compare them to today’s plants to see how the plants may have changed over time. Collections made today will provide future researchers with this same opportunity. Herbariums can also provide pollen for various studies. In 2013, Conservancy staff collected pollen samples from 465 specimens in the herbarium and sent the pollen to a researcher who was reconstructing prehistoric and historic environments of Catalina Island. Specimens from herbarium also are the basis for “The Flora of Catalina Island,” a book the Conservancy is creating to document the Island’s plant life. Matt Guilliams, the Tucker Plant Systematist and curator of the Clifton F. Smith Herbarium at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, is writing the book documenting more than more than 700 different kinds of Island plants.
The Conservancy’s herbarium is indexed under the code “CATA” in the Index Herbariorum, a global directory of public herbaria. The Conservancy has recently worked to input information about all of CATA’s vascular plant specimens in a searchable database that already contained more than 2 million specimen records.
Inclusion in the database made information about Catalina Island plant life available to researchers around the world. This extensive cataloguing of Catalina’s preserved plant specimens also secured the Conservancy membership in the Consortium of California Herbaria.
Catalina’s herbarium was founded in 1971, one year after the Wrigley Memorial Garden opened as a botanical garden. The Wrigley Memorial Garden Foundation operated the botanical garden and herbarium until it merged with the Conservancy in 1996.
The herbarium was originally a greenhouse, which accounts for the slanted walls and general odd shape of the building. Since 1970, two additions have been built onto the building: First, an office was built on the east side for Mark Hoefs, the former director and curator of the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden. Soon after, a bathroom was attached to the office. More recently, the Conservancy has been updating the building by repairing the roof and installing new windows and doors.
The herbarium is only possible because of the work of many collectors who collected the specimens and preserved them. Noteworthy collectors include Steven A. Junak of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Dr. Robert F. Thorne of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and Hoefs, who collected about 70 percent of the specimens in the herbarium.
With their work and the Conservancy’s ongoing collection and preservation of plant specimens, we can increase our understanding of the Island’s plant life and improve our efforts to restore and protect Catalina’s valuable resources.
Amy Catalano is the Conservancy’s conservation operations coordinator. To protect these valuable specimens, the herbarium is only open to researchers by appointment. Contact Catalano at ACatalano@CatalinaConservancy.org. For more information, visit www.CatalinaConservancy.org.