Exploring The UWI Museums: The National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago

Dr. J Francisco Morales

Curator, National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology University of West Indies, St. Augustine Campus Trinidad and Tobago

This is the second in our International Museums Day Blog Series ‘Exploring The UWI Museums’

The National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago is the second oldest in America, and it was founded in Port of Spain in 1818 at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Before 1887, around 90% of the collections were destroyed due to inappropriate conservation conditions.

In the beginning, the Herbarium was housed at the Department of Agriculture in Port Spain, but after World War Two, it was moved to St. Augustine. With the establishment of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, several researchers began to work on the first volumes of the Flora of Trinidad and Tobago. The last volume was published in 1990. The National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago is funded directly by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through a subvention to The University of the West Indies, Department of Life Sciences which was granted custodianship in 1970. Our Herbarium has the best representative collection of the country’s Flora, with duplicates available at British Museum of Natural History (BM), Kew (K), New York Botanical Garden (NY) and Oxford (OXF).

The Herbarium is starting several activities and projects, some of them focused on translating the scientific data into accessible information for ordinary people on printed or online resources. Nowadays, this is critical for herbaria worldwide to guarantee their sustainability. The process involves learning to read and understand the different functions of nature, using ecosystems as learning classrooms and each of the components of the biodiversity that surrounds us as open books. To achieve this, for example, a Field Guide of the Campus trees is undergoing, using QR codes, providing additional information on the Trees inside the University. The Flora of Trinidad and Tobago is outdated, and the project for a new Flora will start soon.

We collect material and take photographs (flowers or fruits) of the different species recorded to produce an online Flora (besides the printed version), with photos of all the species we can collect. These two projects will provide a tool for different users (at all levels) to identify the country’s Flora. The molecular data are at the cutting edge in botany and similar fields. The Herbarium is involved in projects that will study the relationships of different groups in the West Indies and America based on DNA data.

Look for our next feature Exploring The UWI Museums: The UWI Zoology Museum on June 1, 2022

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