A History of the George Safford Torrey Herbarium (CONN)


Donald H. Les

(adapted from a seminar entitled "Diary of a CONN man - the
evolution of
research plant collections at the University of Connecticut" presented on 4 April, 2013)

I. Introduction.  Like many academic endeavors, the CONN herbarium was born amidst a struggle of ideologies.

II. 1881-1892: The University of Connecticut was born as the "Storrs Agricultural School", which retained that name for a decade.
     a. Timeline of significant persons and the founding of the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station
        1. Mead, Armsby, & Koons
        2. Benjamin Franklin Koons
        3. Wilbur Olin Atwater (Atwater Building, UConn campus)

III. 1893-1899: The "school" becomes the "Storrs Agricultural College"
    a. The College's first graduating class comprised 40% women
    b. Timeline for the Storrs Agricultural College (botany and horticulture part ways)
        1. Alfred Gurdon Gulley
        2. The Department of Botany and Military Science
        3. Henry Arthur Ballou
            a. The CONN herbarium began with student collections required for H. A. Ballou's botany course.
                    1. Ballou's efforts were sneered upon by his eventual successor G. S. Torrey
                    2. Ballou's innovative botany course provided 121 specimens to found the fledgling "Herbarium
                        of Storrs Agricultural College", which originated on December 31, 1897

IV. 1899-1933: An expanding influence leads to renaming as the "Connecticut Agricultural College"
    a. Timeline for the Connecticut Agricultural College
        The Connecticut Agricultural College Herbarium featured a variety of different labels
    b. Ballou's successor at the College was Edward A. White
    c. White's successor was A. F. Blakeslee, the first true botanist hired for this position
    d. Blakeslee gained stature as a prominent plant geneticist
        1. Blakeslee also was a staunch advocate of botanical research collections
    e. Blakeslee was succeeded by Edmund W. Sinnott, who contributed minimally to the collections
    f. Also hired at the same time as Sinnott was George Safford Torrey, who had no intentions of staying!!
        1. Torrey held the longest tenure in charge of the herbarium, which he developed immensely.
            a. some of the specimens that Torrey found upon his arrival; it took a while for him to realize
                that they were collected in Texas, not Connecticut.
        2. In 1920, the herbarium held only 1,630 specimens
        3. Torrey used unorthodox methods at first; his "collection numbers" actually represented the
            page numbers of his field notebook
                a. This is why there are some specimens that share the same number.  Torrey had a practice
                    of renumbering his collections from 1- each time he visited a new site.
        4. Torrey also used a type of "shorthand" when writing his field notes.
        5. Under Torrey's supervision, the herbarium grew by about 35,000 specimens.

V. 1933-1939: Connecticut Agricultural College becomes Connecticut State College
    a. Timeline for the  Connecticut State College
    b. The "Connecticut Statesmen" survived for a year before being replaced by the Husky mascot and team name
    c. Torrey was the only botanist in the department during this period.
    d. Labels from the
Herbarium of [the] Connecticut State College

VI. 1939-present: The University of Connecticut is established
    a. Timeline for the University of Connecticut
    b. in 1948, the herbarium contained about 16,663 specimens, a number too low to be included among the major herbaria.
        1. The founding date also was erroneously given as 1915, when it actually was established by Ballou in 1897.
            a. Torrey also attributed the first major collections to "Peterson", who actually was "Patterson".  Difficulty with
                reading herbarium labels can cause many discrepancies.
    c. Torrey began a campaign to increase the herbarium holdings so that the collection could be listed by acronym in Index Herbariorum
    1. Acquisitions from K. P. Jansson & A. W. Driggs added more than 6,000 specimens.
        2. Specimens from J. F. Collins added nearly 3,000 sheets to the herbarium
        3. Since 1940, Torrey's primary objective was to acquire the collection of local botanist E. H. Eames, who possessed nearly 30,000 plant specimens.
            a. Torrey's dream became a reality in 1948, when the University finally acquired Eames' collection.
            b. However, no acronym was assigned in 1948, pending the accessioning of the new Eames material.
        4. The first CONN acronym labels appear on specimens from 1949 (but may have been added later - the date is April 1st!!)
    d. Wendell Camp joined the department in 1953 and eventually became Torrey's successor in charge of the herbarium.
    e. Camp was succeeded
in 1963 by Howard Pfeifer, who added more than 1,500 of his own specimens.
    f. Following Pfeifer's retirement, the herbarium was supervised for 4 years by Robert K. Jansen.
    g. After Jansen left for Texas in 1991, Kent Holsinger became interim director of CONN until 1992.
    h. CONN's 100,000th specimen was accessioned in 1992, based on an earlier estimate.
    i. Don Les joined the EEB faculty in 1992 and also was appointed Director of the CONN Herbarium.
        a. The "top 10" contributors to the CONN herbarium as of 2013.
        b. Some major recent acquisitions were from Jesup (2002) and The Delta Institute (2011).
        c. The collection contains a number of historical novelties.
        d. Phase I of the databasing project was slow to develop.
        e. Phase II: Substantial progress was made when A. Doran became collection manager and BG-Base was implemented.
        f. Phase III: Significant progress continued when Robert Capers was hired as Andy Doran's replacement.
            a. A substantial NSF Grant during this time brought the database plans to fruition.
                1. CONN currently has more than 170,000 specimens digitized (data) and imaged at high resolution; all data are available through various web portals.
                2. The NSF grant provided training for more than 50 students in various aspects of collections management.
                3. The databse project runed up some surprises, including specimens collected by Henry David Thoreau!
                    a. We arranged for a Thoreau specimen to become our 100,000th databased specimen.
                    b. One specimen matched an entry in Thoreau's journal.
                    c. Discovery of the Thoreau material in 2010 was widely publicized.
                        1. The discovery was publicized by NSF
                        2. The CONN herbarium organized a special lecture to celebrate the discovery and acknowledge the work of the recently late L. J. Mehrhoff.
                            a. Les Mehrhoff's field books
                            b. Edwin Eame's field notes
       g. The work is not over - CONN accessions have doubled in the past 20 years.
       h. How we use the CONN database
            1. GBIF provider (also iDigBio, BG-base multisite, Consortium of Northeastern Herbaria)
            2. Global initiatives
VII. Thanks to all!!