Filing all the things! What happened at the recent Botany Blitz?

Filing all the things! What happened at the recent Botany Blitz?

When we think of Te Papa’s collections, we generally think of boxes neatly arranged systematically on shelves, everything in its place. But perhaps every collection / Collection Manager at Te Papa has a pile of material in boxes or on shelves in the ‘waiting to be processed’ category. Maybe this material needs more information, maybe someone else needs to look at it, or maybe it was put aside because it was ‘too hard’ or perhaps just forgotten about. Kaitiaki Taonga Collection Manager Bridget Hatton describes the Botany Collection’s recent Botany Blitz along with some of the discoveries. 

In Botany, we have plenty of this kind of material, and so long as it is not taking up space needed for something else, it tends to sit there, sometimes for quite a while – until the Big Botany Blitz! We needed a big block of shelves cleared to make space for incoming loans, so we found a full week in September when most people were available – from our Head of Natural History, Phil Edgar, to our Botany Curators, Collection Managers, and volunteers – and we blitzed it.

The ‘to do’ stack in the Botany Collection. Photo by Bridget Hatton. Te Papa

We each chose (or were allocated) some boxes which required the following:

  • Assessing (What the heck is this? What should we do with it?)
  • Databasing (just sit down and do it)
  • Mounting (pass it to our wonderful volunteers)
  • Identifying it to genus or species (our Research Associate, Barry Sneddon, helped with some tricky ones)
  • Updating the database with notes
  • Imaging any records that require images in the database and for Collections Online –
  • and finally putting them in the queue to be filed away in the correct place in the collection.

    A woman places a box on a shelf full of other boxes
    Bridget Hatton places a box of plant specimens in its new location. Te Papa

So what is in those boxes?

During the Blitz we found some interesting things:

  • ‘Spare’ plant specimens with little rectangles cut out of the card and were tested – in 1998! – for mercury contamination. Mercuric chloride was once used for pest control, and although the cards that the plants are mounted on do contain residue there is very little risk to staff.
Herbarium sheet showing rectangles cut out to be tested for mercury. Te Papa
  • A couple of folders of hebes collected from Newtown Park by Thomas Kirk in the 1890s, and another folder of what may be the first documented collections of a hebe cultivar from the 1920s (watch this space for blogs coming soon on both of these stories).
  • A jar of pickled Dactylanthus (wood rose) flowers.

    Pieces of Dactylanthus (wood rose) from the jar in the photo. Te Papa
  • Three boxes of ferns collected in the late 1800s and early 1900s, donated to Te Papa in 2003 by the collector’s grandson, and mounted by former Te Papa staff member and Botany volunteer, Sue Superville in 2020/21.

By the numbers

The numbers below show that our first-ever Botany Blitz was a complete success!

  • 28 boxes cleared
  • 375 specimens databased
  • 202 records updated
  • 369 specimens imaged
  • 57 specimens mounted.

We now we have the space we needed – we may even make it an annual event. Stay tuned for next year…

Shelves cleared and ready for incoming loans. Photo by Bridget Hatton. Te Papa

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