Unlike most summers, this year the museum’s botany team was happy not to go to the Arctic. While we love collecting plants out on the land, eliminating non-essential travel north has been a keystone of governmental programs working to keep the territories safe. Community-led research programs and partnerships based in northern communities have continued to do excellent science, while researchers based outside of Inuit Nunangat have postponed expeditions until it’s safe to do so. In a year without fieldwork, our team is getting caught up on writing and lab work, but also uncovering new Arctic biodiversity data from our backlog cabinets.
Contrary to popular belief, backlog is not a dirty word. All herbaria have one, and our National Herbarium of Canada is no exception. This is because it takes much longer to identify, label, mount, image, and digitize a plant specimen than it does to collect it in the first place.
Even though these backlogged specimens are safely stored, they must wait for us to have the time and resources to properly process them and discover what new knowledge they hold. Thanks to a generous donation from the Sitka Foundation, we have been able to process some important Arctic plant collections over the past few years. While we are working from home these days, we have taken the opportunity to tackle one of the largest of these lots: the collections of Dr. Nicholas Polunin.
Polunin was an English botanist who collected specimens across the Canadian Arctic while working at McGill University in 1946 and ‘47. Traveling under the auspices of the Canadian Government, Polunin’s collections were all delivered to the museum at the end of these trips. Unfortunately, since they required a large amount of sorting and the notes were incomplete, they had been stored in the backlog until only recently.
While we were able to sort much of his 1947 material last year, (his 1946 specimens were kindly sorted out by herbarium staff long ago), we have continued to study this lot from home, combining ongoing databasing with archival searches and a read-through of Polunin’s research travelogue in Arctic Unfolding. Critical to our success have been the efforts of previous herbarium staff that have tackled this important collection.
This “at-home” archival fieldwork will allow us to fully process these collections when we return to regular operations at the museum, ultimately freeing this biodiversity data for multiple uses and giving us important insight into the state of Arctic plant biodiversity from 74 years ago.
Herbarium science is a team sport, and the author would like to thank the following people for their critical help in tackling these backlogged specimens: Sergio Capetillo Bolaños, Avery Tyrell, Jeff Saarela, Lyndsey Sharp, Troy McMullin, Chris Deduke, Cassandra Robillard, Kim Madge, Laura Smyk, Chantal Dussault, Lynn Gillespie, Kevin Xiong, Junyi Meng, Erin Johnston, Magean Ng, Katelyn Gao, Sarah Cook Rosanna Wong, Anastasia Bell, Avery Tyrell, Jennifer Doubt, Nicholas Polunin, and Xenia Polunin.
Texte traduit de l’anglais.