E.L. Reed Herbarium at TTU

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Herbarium Prep Space Imaging Station


The EL Reed Herbarium at Texas Tech University houses over 20,000 recorded vascular plant collections from the South Plains, West Texas, and other regions. The Herbarium also contains an estimated 10,000 unrecorded specimens, including specimens untouched since the 1920s. The herbarium opened its doors in 1925 under the leadership of Prof. R.A. Studhalter, who focused on plant anatomy in bryophytes. Dr. E.L. Reed becaome the first director in 1928, and large collections added by Dr. C.M. Rowell, Dr. D.K. Northington, Dr. T. Burgess, and Dr. C.H. Werth added to the collection both geographically and taxonomically. In 2017, Dr. Matthew Johnson became the sixth director of the E.L. Reed Herbarium.

Located on the 7th floor of the Biology building, the Herbarium is a resource for plant systematics and evolution. Dried, pressed plant specimens can be used to help researchers identify species and serve as a record of plant diversity. The collection can be used to track the occurrence of plant species across space and time. Recent advances in molecular systematics makes sampling these antique specimens for DNA sequencing feasible for the first time. Herbarium specimens are an underused resource for phylogenetics in plants, and we are looking forward to using the herbarium in our research.

The Reed Herbarium database is currently housed at the TORCH Portal on Symbiota, which can be accessed here.

See below for herbarium news and ongoing projects!

Herbarium News

Recording Stomata

We are beginning a new project in the herbarium that uses our collection to study the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on plants in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GMNP). The Reed Herbarium at TTU has over 2000 specimens from more than 500 species collected when the park first opened in 1974. This collection will provide us with a window into the physiological stress experienced by plants almost 50 years ago.

Stomata are pores on the underside of leaves and function to let the plant “breathe” carbon dioxide. It has been shown that the density of stomata on leaves is correlated with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere– with more carbon dioxide the plants do not need to breathe as much, so they develop fewer stomata.

In the dry environment of the GMNP, stomata also function to limit water loss. As a result, there may be more physiological pressure to keep the number of stomata low. Using the herbarium collection, students will be able to test whether the expected reduction in stomata over the last 50 years occurred in the GMNP.

This week, undergraduates Zach and Lauren began testing a protocol to efficiently measure stomata on herbarium specimens, which many may remember from high school biology: nail polish! When the polish is painted on the leaves and let to dry, it can be removed using double-sided tape and the impression of stomata can be viewed under a microscope. Zach and Lauren will need to adapt their techniques to a variety of leaf types.

Madeline, Yanni, and Zach paint nail polish on herbarium specimens Closeup of nail polish on underside of leaf
Lauren examines stomata under the microscope Impression of stomata at 10x magnification
18 May 2018 by

Imaging Tutorial

The Spring 2018 semester was bustling with activity in the Herbarium! We made a lot of progress in our digitization efforts, reaching a milestone of 2,000 recorded specimens imaged, with another 800 new specimens added! One of our goals this semester was to develop a set of “best practices” for the herbarium digitization.

As part of her independent research project in the herbarium, undergraduate curatorial assistant Lauren Winfrey produced an awesome tutorial video on how to set up imaging of recorded specimens. Check it out below:

26 Feb 2018 by

The digitization project in the herbarium continues! We are now adding images to our 19,735 recorded specimens.

We were able to assemble an imaging platform using a lot of found and donated materials. The lights were donated by Travis Marsico from Arkansas State Herbarium– they are the same lights seen in their paper in APPS from last summer! We already had a copy stand with a camera attachment, but it was set up in portrait mode, making it difficult to take centered images. With help from Dylan Schwilk and some spare wood, we assembled a new imaging platform that accommodated the lights. It’s looking pretty good:

Reed Herbarium Imaging

The imaging effort is progressing thanks to help from five students who are working in the herbarium this Spring. In addition to imaging our recorded specimens, the students are also taking images of previously unrecorded specimens. Once the images are uploaded to TORCH, they can begin transcribing the label data. Click here to meet the 2018 Reed Herbarium Team!

The images are taken with a Canon DSLR (Rebel SL2) camera and loaded into Canon’s own software. The only processing we do to the images is to rotate them and export as a 2000 x 3000 pixel JPEG image (the RAW image stays on our backup drive). The images are named using the barcode labels, matched to our previously-uploaded database. We then upload the images to the BISQUE server, an image hosting platform driven by Cyverse. Academic usage of BISQUE is free for 100 GB, which should be plenty for all of our specimens (each image is about 2 MB). Next, a script on Symbiota pulls the images from BISQUE, and because of the image names, automatically associates them with specimens in our database.

The system is working really well, and our students are making good progress, with nearly 500 specimens imaged this month! Here’s one of my favorites, and one of our oldest collections: Osmunda from 1893!

30 Oct 2017 by

The TTC Herbarium database is now available online! Click here to view the initial upload of 19,729 records:

http://portal.torcherbaria.org/portal/collections/misc/collprofiles.php?collid=387

It was a big day for the digitization efforts in the Herbarium! As recently as 2014, all of the records were stored on 3-inch floppy disks (the ones all the kids now only recognize as “The Save Icon”). In the following years, while the database was converted and meticulously checked, it was stored as a flat text file, ttc.csv. Although the record was backed up on github, it was not available for the wider community.

We are using the Symbiota online database as our management tool, which so far is working really well. It is easy to edit occurrences, and track changes to each entry. We were also able to use the geolocation script written by Dylan Schwilk to add georeference data to 60% of our specimens. Our regional data portal is through the Texas and Oklahoma Regional Consortium of Herbaria (TORCH), but users can access the full span of herbaria in North America via the specimen from any portal. A big thanks to Ed Gilbert for his help explaining how to get things set up!

I also spoke with Travis Marsico at Arkansas State (STAR) herbarium, who co-authored a paper this year explaining how to effectively digitize a small herbarium. He suggested some improvements to the workflow, including working from a set barcode number from the beginning. We haven’t received our barcodes yet, but plan on adding the barcodes while imaging the specimens, which will make matching images to the online records much easier!

With this in mind, we needed to figure out how to order the specimens, and decided to go “in cabinet order.” Coincidentally, at the very top of our first cabinet (the “seed-free” plants) was a single pressed specimen of Sphagnum! This is currently the only moss catalogued in the herbarium, but as the new director I thought it was fitting that it should serve as the beginning of the digitization effort. Since it was an undetermined specimen, I had some fun keying it out to species, thus forever leaving my mark in the “det by” column!

Here it is, Sphagnum palustre from Angelina County in East Texas, TTC000001:

Sphagnum palustre

27 Oct 2017 by

What is the oldest specimen in the E.L. Reed Hebarium? This humble looking specimen of Stevia salificolia was collected in 1885 in Chiuhuaha, Mexico by Cyrus Pringle. The herbarium at the University of Vermont is named after Pringle, who is known for his cross-bred potatoes (though apparently not related to the potato chip brand of the same name0. According to the UVM website, this specimen would have been from Pringle’s first trip to Mexico.

Stevia is the plant from which the sweetner of the same name is extracted, though usually from a different species Stevia rebaudiana. It is reported that the leaves of Stevia are sweet as sugar, but it is not advisable to taste this herbarium specimen, which likely was treated with Mercuric chloride.

My helpful screenshot

27 Sep 2017 by

The Texas Tech Herbarium was founded in 1925 when it was Texas Technological College (hence the acronym TTC). These two collections made by Reed himself, along with herbarium co-founder Studhalter, are among the oldest in the collection.

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Kiss-me-quick, Portulaca pilosa Ragweed, Ambrosia psilostachya
Collector: R.A. Studhalter E.L. Reed
September, 1925 June, 1929