Armstrong's Herbarium and Greenhouse Blossom With New Life

Assistant Professor of Biology Melanie Link-Perez is reviving Armstrong's Herbarium, which catalogs and archives more than 5,000 dried botanical specimens.

First developed in 1967 by retired Armstrong professor Francis Thorne, the Herbarium has been tucked away in recent years and was not used to its fullest potential. When Link-Perez arrived on campus last year, she quickly realized the treasure housed in the Science Center.

“No one really knew the value or the significance of what we had at Armstrong,” she explained. “I assessed the collection and knew we had something really special and that we needed to protect it.”

Link-Perez started by registering the collection on Index Herbariorum, an international registry. She evaluated and catalogued the collection, determining that it is particularly strong in lowland, coastal Georgia and Florida species.

The Herbarium, which includes more than 1,300 species of flowering plants, offers a museum-quality collection of pressed and dried plant specimens that are preserved on archival paper and stored in special pest-proof metal cabinets.

“We can use the Herbarium for plant taxonomy classes and for research,” she said. “We can also train people to do biodiversity studies.”

Hunter Seabolt, a senior biology major, has helped catalog the collection and collected hundreds of new samples.

“Every time I venture into the Herbarium, I'm always struck by the amount of information that is contained there and the wonders of evolution that I can look at any time I choose,” he enthused. “I am extremely interested in expanding the Herbarium.”

Seabolt has collected more than 300 new plants, strategically expanding the collection's diversity.

“A large portion of my collections have been in the ferns and the gymnosperms, which were both severely lacking in the Herbarium,” he explained. “I have worked to locate different types of ecosystems--like salt marshes, pine barrens and deciduous forests--and collect plants that display the diversity that can be found there.”

Link-Perez plans to attend a workshop to learn how to digitize the collection, as part of the National Science Foundation's goal to make biodiversity collections available online for a massive electronic database. She'll also learn how to integrate geo-referencing using Google Earth to document exactly where each specimen was collected.

imageIn addition to her work on the Herbarium, Link-Perez has also overseen an ambitious renovation of Armstrong's greenhouse, located near the police station on campus.

“It's taken a lot of hard work and lot of sweat,” she said. “We've cleaned everything out, repotted and divided the plants, and organized the greenhouse as a resource for teaching about plants on campus.”

Local master gardeners and Plant Operations staff joined forces with biology faculty, staff and students to help renovate the greenhouse and to label and identify the various plants.

“The greenhouse is a great opportunity to build connections between the student body and the community,” said Link-Perez.

imageThe facility has an impressive collection of sago palms, bromeliads and pitcher plants. Link-Perez is currently acquiring new plants that can demonstrate concepts like convergent evolution and adaptation to students, making the study of botany tangible and accessible.

“The Herbarium and the greenhouse projects have been energizing,” said Link-Perez. “I'm excited about our possibilities and the way students are involved in these projects. Armstrong has some amazing resources that are getting a whole new lease on life.”

Visit the Armstrong Herbarium web site and read more about the project in the Savannah Morning News.