This Week in History: 600 plant specimens donated to RBCM’s botany collection

The Royal BC Museum is always happy to hear from the public, if you have an item or a document you think they might be interested in.

Recently the Botany department was thrilled to receive a huge donation, that staff had no idea even existed!

Joined by two other botanists, the Royal BC Museum Botany Collections Manager Erica Wheeler is looking over a recent donation: four boxes, fill with six-hundred plant specimens from the Cranbrook area.

“They were collected in the 1940’s by Walter and Mary Johnson” explains Wheeler.

“Until recently we didn’t know about this collection, but both of them have passed away, and someone, on their behalf, donated the collection to the Museum.”

“This is a fantastic collection” says Botanist Ryan Batten, “how well they’re pressed, and preserved, and the detail they gone to to get all the parts…

“The flowers, and the seedpods, and all that together…including the photos and the habitat information.”

Retired Biologist Hans Roemer explains that the collection offers insight into introduced species.

“If you go back to these older collections” says Roemer “what you can see is how quickly these introduced plants got established and spread.

“This is watercress here, and this one is orchard grass…” says Roemer, pointing to various specimens from the collection.

“Watercress thrives only in certain habitats, but orchard grass is much more hardy, and that’s a problem,” explains Roemer.

“Because once it gets established, it forms huge, big clumps and it suppresses a lot of our native [plants].”

Also in the collection, points out Ryan Batten, are plants that are now extinct.

“We know for sure that this plant doesn’t exist anymore, and here we have a window that it was there in 1940…1948 in this case…

“It’s called Elegant Calico Flower, and it grows just north of Creston,

“There was no holdings of this at the museum here – the collections are held at UBC – so now we have a specimen here.”

Along with hundreds of pressed specimens, the collection also includes photographs, and paintings.

“It turns out” says Wheeler “Mary Johnson was also a painter, and she did some beautiful, bouquet-like paintings of the native plants that they were actually collecting.”

Wheeler adds that this remarkable collection is a valuable window into BC’s past.

“These records will in fact add to information, not about necessarily what’s here now, but what was in the province then.”