Herbaria 3.0 and Plant Stories
Plants are everywhere in our world and lives. They beautify our homes and fortify our bodies. They give us medicines and metaphors, perfumes and poetry. But people are often blind to the fact that plants exist in a world of complex relationships that are often hidden from human view. They can recognize, communicate, and even cooperate with each other. They exhibit complex behaviors in response to equally complex stimuli. They have their own wants, needs, and desires.
And yet, despite our essential connections to the green world, many people are now notably “blind” to the plants that not only sustain us but that share our world.
What is plant blindness?
Nearly twenty years ago, biologists diagnosed an epidemic of “plant blindness” in people. If we can’t see the plants that are around us everyday—the trees that shade sidewalks, the lavender that feeds bees, the houseplant that has crawled across the windowpane—we also can’t see that plants are essential to our everyday lives.
Plant blindness makes us insensitive to both the private lives of plants and to the deep history of plant-human interactions. Perhaps most significantly, our inability to see plants locally renders us blind to the significant consequences of human action on plant communities globally.
What is Herbaria 3.0?
Herbaria 3.0 is a platform for sharing stories about plants and people. We believe that these stories can draw our attention to the intertwined nature of human-plant relationships. Turning to these relationships helps us to remember plants and reconnect with them, acknowledging the pivotal role plants play in our lives.
What are herbaria?
Herbaria are collections of preserved plant specimens featuring dried plants mounted on heavy white paper, most often prepared by plant collectors or botanists for research purposes. The first herbaria were created in Italy in the mid-1500s as a way to document medicinal plants, and herbaria are still important resources for plant biologists today.
An herbarium specimen sheet preserves, often in loving detail, an individual plant.
Herbarium sheets, such as the one at the left, provide essential information about a plant: its structure, leaves, roots, flowers; its name and classification information; and the process of its collection (who collected it, where, and when). If you look carefully at this image, collected by Mary Treat, a 19th century naturalist and popular nature writer, you will see a small envelope attached to the sheet; such envelopes might contain seeds or other important parts of the plant. You will also see labels that track the history of the plant through time, as well as markers used for scanning and other digital purposes.
Herbaria were not only of interest to botanists. Throughout the centuries, plant enthusiasts–often everyday people who who occupied their leisure time collecting and preserving plants–also created extensive herbaria to record and memorialize the plants they found in their rambles. Herbaria record the stories of people’s interaction with plants. An herbarium could be a private document, such as the example below from the poet Emily Dickinson’s herbarium, or it could be meant to shared with friends and others. What holds true for each example, though, is that every herbarium sheet tells a story. Every one is a living object that changes meaning as it moves through time.
You will see examples of herbarium specimens throughout the site.
Why Herbaria 3.0?
The original herbarium sheet constitutes the “1.0” of our project. Herbaria are powerful chronicles of both disappeared, and disappearing, worlds. They detail a long and often complicated history of plant-human interaction, and thus serve as an effective metaphor for the project of this site. The collection of these specimens in real and digital herbaria constitute the “2.0.” Together both the specimens and the archiving of them serve as a visual, tactile, and material repository of plant-human interactions. We have rebooted the concept of herbaria in “Herbaria 3.0,” offering a place to collect, share, map, and archive modern human-plant encounters that reflect the global movements of plants and people alike. Here we aim to reveal hidden histories, to provoke new narratives, and to create a bright spot of hope, just as plants have shown resilience in the face of change.