Hey, buddy, wanna see a dried pokeweed? It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal.
The University of Maryland will display a historic collection of plants collected in the 17th century by Maryland amateurs as they explored the wonders of this new world.
There was tremendous interest in London (among those who work up tremendous interest in things other than eating and grasping) in the natural treasures of the new colonies.
These type specimens, some of them examined by Linnaeus himself, the father of modern botany, wound up neatly mounted in two folio volumes. They came into the collection of Hans Sloane, whose collection was the nucleus of the British Museum.
The two volumes have never left the museum until now, when they will be seen in H.J. Patterson Hall on the campus at College Park today from 9:30 to 4, and tomorrow from 10 to 4. University botanist James L. Reveal, who tracked down this unique collection at the museum, will lecture on it at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
The collectors were the Rev. Hugh Jones, Anglican priest of Christ Church in Calvert County; William Vernon, educated at St. Peter's, Cambridge; and Dr. David Krieg, a ship's surgeon, naturalist and painter. There are 1,000 plants pressed and dried in the volumes exhibited.
Reveal was told by a curator in London that the volumes had lain untouched in the Sloane Herbarium for a good two centuries.
The collection will be shown Wednesday in Christ Church, Port Republic, Md., center of the collecting efforts of Jones, its rector.
On Thursday and Friday they will be on display at the Old State House in Annapolis, and major parts of the collection will be displayed until April 1 at the National Agricultural Library at Beltsville.
It commonly happened in the 17th and 18th centuries that naturalists and amateurs of botany in London arranged for new plants--and seeds and roots of anything that might be added to the English ornamental garden--to be sent. Sometimes subscriptions would be raised among the nobility and gentry to pay the New World collectors for their pains, and the seeds would be divided among subscribers. In this way an endless stream of new things entered England and became common in gardens there, and to this day Americans are commonly startled to see so many American plants commonly grown in that kingdom.
After the Maryland display of the herbarium specimens, the volumes will return to the British Museum, where, possibly, they will lie another two centuries. Still, while the dried things in the books may not be as colorful as a flower shop, they have great historical botanical importance, and as the university points out, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see them back on their home turf.