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Emory Herbarium to celebrate growing collection

The Emory University Herbarium, which began as a campus resource in 1949, is blossoming into a distinctive botanical collection with a global reach, thanks to the support of donors and the work of dedicated volunteers, many of them students. 

Herbarium poster

A poster of plants and animals found in Emory’s Lullwater Preserve is among the raffle prizes.

On Friday, Sept. 21, the Herbarium is hosting a Research Symposium & Celebration to mark a major milestone — the digitization of more than 20,000 plant specimens, the oldest of which dates back to 1872. 

“The Herbarium is a window into the natural world and a valuable resource for research and education across disciplines,” says Cassandra Quave, curator of the Herbarium and an assistant professor in the Emory School of Medicine and the Center for the Study of Human Health. “Now, through digitization, people from across the world can access this resource.”

The Herbarium will be open for visitors the morning of the celebration, from 9 to 11:30 a.m., at its location in room 100D of 1462 Clifton Road (commonly known as the Old Dental School Building). 

The Research Symposium, set from 2 to 5:30 p.m. in PAIS 290, features Emory scholars from across the sciences and humanities who use plants in their research. Topics will range from “Dried Gardens and Natural Philosophy in 16th-Century Europe” by Maria Carrion (from the departments of comparative literature and religion) to “Botanicals in Integrative Oncology” by Omer Kucuk (from the School of Medicine’s departments of hematology-oncology and urology). Special guest speaker Emily Coffey, from the Atlanta Botanical Garden, will give a talk titled “Conservation of Imperiled Plants across the Southeastern United States.” Visit this link to see the full schedule of 10 speakers and their title talks.

The day’s events continue with a “Celebration of Botanical Research at Emory,” from 6 to 9 p.m. in Cox Hall Ballroom. Emory President Claire E. Sterk will give opening remarks and present certificates in recognition of the dozens of volunteers who have given more than 100 hours of their time to prepare and press plant specimens, digitize data and perform other needed tasks to keep the facility thriving.

Posters of Emory botanical-related research will be on display and a raffle will be held to raise money for student research projects that utilize the Herbarium collection. The raffle prizes themselves represent the dedication of those who have worked to revitalize the Herbarium.

Volunteer Loy Xingwen, a graduate student in the department of environmental sciences, created four-color posters of the plants and animals of Lullwater Reserve and screen-printed Herbarium t-shirts for the raffle; volunteer Sarah Hanson hand-painted flora and fauna on ceramic mugs.

Tharanga Samarakoon, the Herbarium collections manager, is offering pressed botanical specimens and some of her original botanical art. Other prizes will include herbal tea and seed baskets, potted plants, guided ecological tours of Arabia Mountain and tickets to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

After its founding in 1949 by members of the Emory biology department, the Emory Herbarium collected many species of importance locally. Its Granite Rock Outcrop Collection includes rare and endangered plants that grow in the vernal pools of Arabia Mountain and Stone Mountain. The Herbarium’s original collections manager, Madeline Burbanck, played a pivotal role in the official designation of Arabia Mountain as a National Heritage Area.

In addition to a large representation of plants from the Southeastern United States, the collection includes specimens from other areas of the United States, Europe and Australia. 

The facility closed for decades but was reopened in 2012. Quave, a medical ethnobotanist, is further distinguishing the Herbarium by building a Medical Botany Collection of wild plants used in traditional healing practices from different parts of the world, including some that are important to modern-day medicine.

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