Plants to Papers

For botanists, summer is field season, and each July we fill our social-media accounts with our plans for Arctic expeditions, dispatches from the field and just-in reports of new discoveries. There’s romance and adventure in fieldwork, no doubt about that. It’s hard work too, as any field researcher can attest. But the time in between trips is when we make each one of those expeditions really count.

A man stands at a table piled with herbarium sheets.

Before they are mounted and filed into the National Herbarium of Canada, the thousands of plants collected on any given trip have to be sorted to species level for identification. Image: Micheline Beaulieu-Bouchard © Canadian Museum of Nature

Floristics (the science of documenting the plant species of a given area) is one of the main aims of each of these expeditions. The first step is to comprehensively collect all the plant species in a given area, southern Baffin Island where Jeff and Roger are now, for example. Step two is to come home, sort the plants out for identification and catch up on some much needed sleep. The longest step, number three, is to get down to our microscopes, and to start identifying and writing.

Collage: A man sits at a microscope, an open herbarium cabinet.

Long hours in the field are matched with even longer hours in the herbarium, examining and identifying hundreds of specimens for each floristic paper. Fortunately Dr. Jeff Saarela (left) considers this a lot of fun! Images: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

Rather than simply report on our new collections, a proper floristics paper includes an account of all of the collections previously made in the area and synthesizes these distribution records into a new contribution to knowledge about the species and the area we’re studying.

Therefore, we spend a lot of time looking through various floras and previously published papers, consulting with experts on various challenging species and poring over herbarium specimens—loans from other institutions and our own. Good thing our National Herbarium of Canada has one of the biggest collections of Canadian Arctic plants anywhere on the planet.

Collage: Three plants in situ.

New and noteworthy records in our Phytokeys paper include the northern bog orchid (Platanthera obtusata, left), bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia, upper right) and foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum, lower right). Images: Roger Bull, Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

Over the past few months, two such floristic papers written by our team have been published. New vascular plant records for the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (published in the online journal PhytoKeys) is filled with new records, taxonomic changes and range extensions for species and locations across the Canadian Arctic Islands.

It serves to update the museum’s previously published Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Collage: Three plants in situ.

Colourful High Arctic species documented in our Canadian Field-Naturalist paper include Arctic willow (Salix arctica, upper left), flat-top draba (Draba corymbosa, lower left) and spider saxifrage (Saxifraga flagellaris subsp. platysepala, right). Images: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

The other paper (in The Canadian Field-Naturalist), The Flora of Cunningham Inlet, is a summary of all the plant species known from the paper’s namesake on northern Somerset Island, Nunavut, and represents the scientific outcome of the 2013 Arctic Watch Lodge youth expedition. In the future, this publication may serve as a handy reference for monitoring floristic change in Canada’s High Arctic polar deserts.

Three men stand around a full plant press.

Our next floristic paper will likely be on the plants of the Coppermine River valley in Nunavut, where we collected in the summer of 2014. The (many) plants inside this massive press will form the backbone of that work. Image: Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

As we continue to collect, we’ll continue to write these floristic papers because, as the old saying goes, “Science not published is science not finished.”

And under the auspices of the new Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration, each one of these smaller works also feed into our larger floristic goal: the publication of the new Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska.

This entry was posted in Arctic, Collections, Fieldwork, Plants and Algae, Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Plants to Papers

  1. Peter says:

    Hi great article You’re obviously passionate and enthused Small comment – I was trying to guess the plant genuses and wonder whether the labels for the bottom pant photo are the wrong way round? Keep up the good work – botanists automatically go to heaven (not that there is one) haha

    • Thanks Peter, very much appreciated! I just took a look, and I think that everything is in the right place, which plants were you looking at? Keep up the keen observations, and thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Pingback: Snapshots of (Natural) History | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

  3. Pingback: Plants 2 Papers: The Sequel | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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