An exhibit of plant specimens picked in Maryland in the late 1690s--and part of the collection of the British Musem--will be on view at the University of Maryland Monday and Tuesday.
The British natural history museum is loaning the 300-year-old specimens to the university until May 1.
James Reveal, a Maryland botany professor, discovered the specimens while studying at the museum in 1972. The museum got them from the Royal Society of London, which sent three naturalists to Maryland in 1696 to study plant life.
Reveal said the five species discovered between 1696 and 1699 "are now extremely rare; one species is close to being extinct."
The rarest plant on display is called chaff-seed (Schwalbea americana). At one time it could be found from Virginia to New England, but now--except for two samples spotted in recent years in New Jersey--it is known nowhere in the world.
Others plants on display include some that are familiar to modern Marylanders, such as tobacco, and once-abundant plants such as dragon's mouth (Arethusa bulbosa), three-birds orchid (Triphora trianthophora), buffalo clover (Trifoluim reflexum), and one that has just a scientific name, Psoralea psoralioides.
In 1980 Reveal and a team of two botanists and one historian received a $5,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study and document the Britist Museum's collection of 1,100 plants, the largest from colonial America.
In 1700 there were fewer than 400 plant species known in Virginia, Reveal said. Likewise, in 1753 there were fewer than 50 species collected in New York, only two species from what is now Tennessee, four from the Florida area and a total of 889 from the entire North American continent.
The research team has been studying the plants for four years and their work will culminate with a 250-page report to be published in the fall issue of "Huntia," a journal on the history of botany.
The plant collection can be viewed at H. J. Patterson Hall, across from the Student Union Building on the College Park campus, Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reveal will present a seminar on Maryland botanical history at Patterson Hall Tuesday at 4 p.m. It is open to the public.