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Professor tries to save rare plant

Katie Kohler | Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Saint Mary’s biology professor Richard Jensen has initiated a campaign to raise funds for the preservation of the plant specimen herbaria, which was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

The most devastated location for herbaria, a plant specimen used for things such as DNA analysis and plant identification, was the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Miss., Jensen said, where most specimens resided in colleges and universities.

Jensen, as the president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT), said that these plants are essential to environmental research and is working to preserve the plant if possible.

Specimens that are destroyed take vital information along with them,” he said.

Jensen explained that the process of rescuing the damaged specimens is almost identical to the procedure libraries use to salvage books damaged by water or floods.

“Herbaria needs to be dealt with carefully and cannot get wet,” he said.

Some preservation techniques include freezing or drying the damaged specimens.

Jensen and other members of the ASPT are requesting that members of the society as well as others donate funds to help restore herbaria specimens.

“Right now we are looking for short-term donations, but we hope that people are willing to make a more long-term commitment,” Jensen said.

Not many people know the importance of herbaria or its uses, Jensen said, adding that its importance should not be underestimated.

“Doctors use herbaria to identify a plant ingested by a child,” he said. “A detective uses herbaria to identify plant parts found on a murder victim to help determine the scene of the crime.”

Although Jensen is looking for support for his campaign, he wants his benefactors to keep the victims of Katrina as their paramount cause of monetary donation.

“The people donating should make the people their first priority and the museum second,” he said.

This campaign is also raising money to provide support for future disasters. Jensen said contributions can be sent directly to the American Society of Plant Taxonomists Herbarium Emergency Fund.