Lockdown fieldwork – collecting new weed specimens

Lockdown fieldwork – collecting new weed specimens

Being in lockdown in Wellington didn’t mean an end to fieldwork for some of our staff. Botany Curator Leon Perrie and Researcher Lara Shepherd – who are in the same bubble – used their lockdown walks to collect roadside weeds for our herbarium. But what did they find within only a short walk from home?

Why collect weeds?

Aotearoa New Zealand is a very weedy country with more naturalised plant species than natives. New plant species continue to ‘escape’ cultivation every year to become weeds, and many existing weeds are expanding their ranges. Determining the distribution of weed species is required for their effective management and key to understanding how they are spreading.

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What weeds to collect?

Te Papa’s plant collection strategy includes collecting one specimen of every wild plant species (native and weedy) from within Wellington.

VUW botany student Joe Dillon has also been collecting plant specimens for our herbarium. Joe has set up a project on the citizen science website iNaturalist that lists all the iNaturalist plant records for Wellington which do not have specimens in our herbarium. The hundreds of weeds on this list were the targets of our walks.

A man wearing a black and white face mask and a black beanie holding a leafy bamboo stalk
Leon collecting a specimen of arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) for Te Papa’s herbarium. Photo by Lara Shepherd

How did we do?

Surprisingly well! Despite our collecting being restricted to roadside areas near our house, we managed to collect 36 specimens of weeds. Two of our collections were of particular interest.

Corn spurge has not been previously recorded from Wellington (either by herbarium specimens or on iNaturalist) and there were no specimens at all of this species in our herbarium.

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We also made the first collection for the herbarium of the bicolour cobra lily.

The specimens have been pressed and carefully dried in our sunroom during the day and in front of the heater in the evening. Their collection details have been entered into Te Papa’s collections database, as it is accessible remotely.

Three stacks of tied-up flat cardboard on a laundry rack in front of a window over looking the harbour.
Weed specimens drying in plant presses. The lack of sunshine during lockdown didn’t help with the drying! Photo by Lara Shepherd

Before these new specimens are brought into the herbarium, they will be frozen for 10 days to kill any hitchhiking herbivorous insects that might damage the dried plants already in the collection. Once through this quarantine, the new specimens will be mounted on card and imaged by the wonderful team of Botany volunteers, before being filed away into the collection.

A stack of flat A4 sheets of paper and cardboard bound together with strops sitting in front of a gas heater.
The plant presses got the prime spot by the heater during lockdown. Photo by Lara Shepherd

Thank you to the iNaturalist community in Wellington – your observations made finding these weeds much easier.

1 Comment

  1. Great article. It’s important that we keep building a specimen record of the continuing expansion of weeds in to wild NZ. I like that your plant presses get priority access to your heater. 🙂

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