Day: August 18, 2016

Hard at Work in the Herbarium, Part II: Keeping Chaos at Bay

The human female has turned her eye to another set of vouchers, these collected over several years by an entomologist acquaintance.


Uh, oh.  Things are sticking out of the plant press.  That’s never a good sign.  It means the plants might be too big for mounting. And the papers are funny sizes.  Still, there might be botanical treasures in there.  Nothing for it, human, but to dig in and come up with some determinations.


On the other hand, since this entomologist has been collecting the food plants of a certain family of tiny, leaf-nibbling beetles, the plants might all be as ratty as this one.  Let’s see–dead, flat, dry, rootless, sterile, chewed into a doily, and Very important!  The challenge should do the human female good.  (Keeps her humble.)


Wait!  No fair!  This is a lovely specimen, and it keys right out to Sweetleaf with no trouble at all.  This is supposed to be hard!  The specimens are supposed to be old and brittle!  It’s supposed to take all night to identify them, with the human female feeling more and more inadequate to the job with each passing hour.  She’s supposed to leave feeling as if she’s hardly made a dent in setting things to rights.  Where is the vague self-loathing I was counting on?

Bah!  I shall have to amuse myself by leading her on a wild gooseweed chase.  Let me see… If she keys out a plant and then compares it to the filed specimens for verification, but then notices that one of the plants in the folder is grossly misidentified, she will have to hit “pause” on her identification streak and take the time to key out and annotate the offending specimen, update the record in the database, and then re-file it.


Or–I know! I can rig things so that there is not already a folder for the new identification!  She will have to cross to the other side of this enormous room and write the genus name on the “Herbarium slave volunteer, please letter a folder” list.  Oh!  Or maybe she’ll notice that the formal name for this species has been recently changed (to reflect Science, you see) and she’ll need to annotate a whole folder’s worth of sheets and correct the electronic records.  Or she’ll be unable to locate the folder that should be right here between Lespedeza species A-E and Lespedeza species M-P and she’ll spend twenty minutes trying to figure out how it might have been mis-filed.  And while she’s doing that, she’ll discover a sheet from Switzerland that someone (for some unfathomable reason) databased as African, and she’ll have to hunt down the Europe folder for that species and find there isn’t one and have to traipse back across the facility to put another request on the make-a-folder list, and then update the database, stopping to consult various online mapamundi and gazetteers to try to figure out what canton of Switzerland the specimen is from, as well some other reference work to remind herself of the ISO 3-letter code for Switzerland, which is, of course, not SWI nor even SWZ.

And then I can lead her to stumble over an actual sheet of one of the plants she and Sigyn were looking at in that old wildflower bookSilene cucubalus.


I figure I can lead her around by the nose all night, so that by the time she drags herself home, tired and dissatisfied with her progress, when the human male asks her how many identifications she was able to get through, she’ll just have to sigh and say, “two.”

She really ought to learn to leave me at home.

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