Aaauugghhh! He’s everywhere!

The human female is out at the big metal building all full of dead plants again.  Recently, she’s been going through the cabinet full of “historical specimens.”  These are the superannuated sheets, all collected before 1880.

Largely, these specimens area already in the database, but if they’re not, she’s having to make entries for them: Family, genus, specific epithet, locality, date, collector, etc.   All of these old labels are hand-written, and deciphering the poor penmanship can take just as long as typing it all in.

This is the label for what appears to be the oldest specimen in the collection.


Look at that!  Do you see how some of S’s are written like F’s?  This sheet is databased as having been collected in “Valois, France.”  But was it really?

Great Frigga’s corset!  The human female with a mystery to solve is like a terrier with a pork chop bone.  She’s hitting the internet, doing some research and availing herself of  an online translating app.

(later) She thinks she’s figured it out.   The plant was collected by Jacques Gay.  It is Festuca valesiaca Gaudin.  The rest of the label says, “April, 1805.  It is common nearly all over Valais.  We have found it near Zermatt in 1809.  It grows also in Lausanne, in the territory of St. Sulpice (1809).”  So it’s from the canton of Valais, Switzerland, not France!  This makes sense, since ol’ Jaques was Swiss.

Math time!  If it took her half an hour to figure all of that out and there are hundreds of plants in this cabinet, what is the likelihood of my getting home to my beloved Sigyn some time this decade?

When I come to rule this realm, there will be just one country, with MY name on it, which will save so much trouble.

Next up:  this scrawny grass specimen.


There’s not as much writing on this one, and part of the information is printed, so perhaps it won’t take so long.

Let’s see…  Aristida ramosissima Engelmann.   That was easy.   “Leg.” is short for the Latin for “collected by,” so George Vasey was the collector, some time in 1862.  And where’s it from?


Aaauugghhh!  Seriously?  Some idiot named a Midgardian town after my horrible father?!  Everywhere I go, it’s my stupid family.  If it isn’t someone’s ridiculous visage, it’s their loathsome name.  Am I to be allowed no peace?

That’s it, female.   You are done for the evening.  Take me home.

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P. S.   Valais is famous for these creatures.  I think I know what Sigyn is getting for her next birthday.


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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At the Herbarium, Part II: Sticky, Inky, and Yellowing

As she has amply demonstrated, Sigyn knows how to mount plants. The people who work here do it in much the same fashion. Sigyn wants to help. Some specimens are already laid out, ready for glue.


My sweet, where do you want this weight? And don’t you think it looks as if someone is trying to put a multitude of different grasses on the same sheet? That sheet in the background has even more different kinds. And shouldn’t there be a label? Sigyn, your specimens were nicer.

What’s going on over on that other table? What does this mechanical lobster-ish thingummy do?


Oh, I see now–this is a scribing/transcribing tool for doing neat lettering. The pointy stylus goes in the letter groove, the peg foot goes in the track, and under the little knobby bit is an ink reservoir. I like this little device–anything that has a stabby bit and can make inky blots all over folders, fingers, and clothes is a fine bit of mischief indeed!

Nearby is a stack of specimens that have already been mounted. Hmm. What have we here? Great Frigga’s Hairpins! Sigyn–look at the date on this one!


Do you see how old it is?! 1853! This fragile old paper is yellowing and a little brittle. If I’m reading the human scrawl correctly, someone named V. Hayden collected it and said it was “Spurtrina cynosuroidy” from near place called “Fost Bcrtholesquiggle.” At some point more recently, another botanist amended the label to read “S. pectinata.” This lends credence to the theory that taxonomists just like to change nomenclature around to mess with people’s heads.

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At the Herbarium, Part I: UFFOs (Unidentified Flat Floral Objects)

My beloved and I have accompanied the human female to a place she calls the "Herbarium." At first, I thought this was going to be a place of herbs, sweetly fragrant with thyme, rosemary, and pipperjoy (which is grown in Asgard but is very uncommon on Midgard). Sadly, no. Remember all the plants we collected and smashed? This is where they ultimately end up.

There is evidently some identification work to be done today. Much as she would like to think she knows every plant out there, she so very much doesn’t. When collectors send plants they do not know the names of, the human female has to sit down and figure out what they are.

Ah. Number 533. I can tell you what this is. It’s a lump of green stuff.


The human female says part of it is a liverwort. Truly? That’s the best name you can make up? The bit with actual oblong leaves is…. something different.


She thinks it might be a species of Callitriche, but since the sample doesn’t have any fruit, she can’t be sure. That is a very good "out", blaming the identification failure on the plant and not her failing acumen. Poor old Number 533 may just have to remain unidentified.

This one is much less tiresome. It has nice, big, colorful parts.


Sigyn quite likes the red-seeded fruit. Euonymus atropurpurea var. atropurpurea. Otherwise known as Burningbush or Eastern Wahoo. Who NAMES these things?!


Sigyn, come out of those papers before you get folded away, boxed up, and left behind!

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