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Plants from India in the vascular plant herbarium, Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo (NHM-UiO)


This dataset includes specimens originating from India in the vascular plant herbarium, the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo (NHM-UiO).

Introduction: As the country of India has banned the export of plant specimens, specimens collected in India prior to the ban are of high value for the research community. This report is from a survey of the herbarium sheets in the vascular plant herbarium of Oslo which ended in an inventory of plants from India present in the herbarium. Due to ongoing mass digitization of the vascular plant herbarium in Oslo, the angiosperms were only surveyed up to and including the family of Cyperaceae. The specimens were primarily collected in the mid or late 19.th century. Whereas most are personal collections and some are from “flora exsiccata”, which were herbarium sheets sold by sellers that did not necessarily collect the specimens themselves.
The collectors: One of the earliest collectors which has donated material to Oslo was Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854). Unfortunately he did not specify where in India or when the collection was made. But it is known that he arrived in India in 1807, and that he retired aroud 1846. It is also known that he spent most of the time in or around Calcutta, but he also made several expeditions to what is now known as neighboring countries of India. Wallich described many new species on his journey, and some of the specimens might therefor be type specimens. The most famous, and important of the collectors may be Joseph Dalton Hooker(1817-1911), who collected along with Thomas Thomson (1817-1878), mainly in the Khasia area. They also split up and went for individual surveys where J.D. Hooker went to Sikkim, and T. Thomson went to the western Himalaya and Punjab. J.D. Hooker is known to have collected and described many new species from India, which means that there might be some hidden syntypes in the material present at the herbarium in Oslo. The collections are not numbered which might further complicate the decision of the status of the specimens. J.D. Hooker's main affilation was to the botanical garden in Kew, where more of their material can be found. However, the value of the collections in Oslo is high as it might add to what is found in Kew. Their journeys are well described, so an approxiamate date to their collections can be found by tracing their journey. Major/Captain Francis Jenkins (1763-1866) and John William Masters (1792-1873) collected plant specimens in the area of Assam. F. Jenkins is credited for beeing the one that discovered the tea plant in Assam. Most of the collections present in Oslo was made by J.W. Masters, with little of no additional information other than the label shared with F. Jenkins "Coll. Jenkins Plants of Assam". They apparently did more collecting than describing. Thomas Anderson (1832-1870) is represented with a few collections in the herbarium. It seems like some former worker in the herbaria of Oslo confused him with the Swedish botanist Nils Johan Andersson (1821-1880), which was on a circumference within approximately the same time period. Some of their collections are quite presice and inludes the site and even the date of collecting, however others are of less precision. John Firminger Duthie (1845-1922), is strongly represented in the collection of material from India. Most of his collections are from the period of 1880-1900. Therefore the number of new species described by him is lower than the previous collectors for obvious reasons. His collections are very precise and includes both area and date of collection. One of the collectors from the early 1800's was Dr. Bernhard Schmid (1787-1857). Working as a missionary he mainly collected. But his material has been used by Jonathan Carl Zenker. The material is almost exclusively collected in the Nilagiri area. More recently, Robert L. Fleming collected many specimens in the Dehra Dun area about 1950, mainly pteridophytes. Ove Arbo Høeg a professor from the University of Oslo did some collections in 1951-1952. As these collectors are more recent, the labels are more detailed than the predecessors. In addition to these collectors which count for most of the material, several others have contributed. Mainly serveral persons from the University of Delhi, which mainly collected around Delhi, even on the University campus. A special case is that of Rudolph Friedrich Hohenacker (1798-1874). Many collections bears his label, but these are not collected by him personally. R.F Hohenacker sold flora exsiccata's which consist of specimens collected by other persons. The only additional information on these collections are the area they were collected. These collections have to be considered of lower scientific value than others, unless the original collectors can be traced, and therby giving a timespan and an actual collector.
Final remarks: Many of the specimens from India in the herbarium of Oslo are from the 1800's and are therefore of a certain value. The possibility that some of them might be syntypes or isotypes adds additional value. And again for scientific purposes, material from India is rare outside India due to their export ban. Allthough it's not very useful for most modern DNA techniques, morphology is still the backbone of modern botany. It is also worth mentioning the "cool" factor of some of these collections. J.D. Hooker was one of Charles Darwins closest friends, which gives some perspective to what kind of material we are dealing with and help convey this era of botany.