[Science news] - Rediscovery of giant needleleaf in Belgium due to a 152 year old herbarium specimen

Thu 11 Apr

Since March 2018 the Belgian herbarium of Meise Botanic Garden has been digitized and is now open to public consultation. Botanists, both professionals and passionate amateurs, find their way to this digital herbarium collection. As did Annelies Jacobs from Natuurpunt (a nature organisation in Flanders).

An herbarium specimen from giant needleleaf (Polycnemum majus) from the herbarium of G. Dens, collected on 4 September 1866, caught her attention. This species had been considered extinct in Belgium since 1946. The herbarium label contained more information. The specimen was collected by François Crépin, a specialist on the Belgian flora and the former director of the Botanic Garden. The accurate site description was also mentioned: “Côteaux schisteux. Rochefort, au lieu-dit le Tige.” (Schist hillside. Rochefort, at the place called le Tige). She explored the site where the plant was collected with Steven Jacobs and surprisingly discovered a relict population of this species, after more than 150 years!

The rediscovery of this species, due to the digital herbarium botanicalcollections.be, shows the importance of an herbarium as reference collection for historical data. The label information can disclose the historical and sometimes also the current location of species.

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