Botanical and mycological collections

In the first half of the 19th century, botany held a special place in the "Natural Cabinet". The first three directors of the collections, C. Chr. Gmelin (1785-1837), A. Braun (1837-1846) and M. Seubert (1846-1878) were well-known botanists who also left behind large collections (herbarias). Other herbaria came into the state collections through donations or purchases. The Schimper collection is said to have included around “500 rather thick packages”.

What is botany?

In 1753 the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus published his work "Species Plantarum" and established the binomial system (genus and species) for naming plants. Since then, every new plant species has had to be described and published in a recognized scientific journal or book. Today, at the International Botanical Congress, rules for plant nomenclature will be established.

Specimens of plants and fungi collected in the field are brought to the Museum of Natural History in an almost constant stream. They are the raw material, the building blocks of botanical knowledge. Pressed between sheets of paper and accompanied by field notes, they are waiting to be identified, catalogued, classified and analyzed.

Experts in systematics document and group organisms in a way that reflects their evolutionary relationships, using a variety of techniques to learn the basic characteristics of a studied plant, from simple measurements of plant parts and shapes to more sophisticated microscopic, biochemical and molecular approaches. Then they can assign the plant to a specific taxonomic group based on its similarity to others.

Ethnobotanists and ethnomycologists investigate how people all over the world use plants and fungi, e.g. as food, medicine, for utensils, construction, clothing, etc. This was also one of the reasons why Margravine Karoline Luise founded the botanical collection and the botanical garden in Karlsruhe Intense efforts are being made to discover and exploit the potential in plants before their genetic resources are lost to extinction.

What is a herbarium?

Dried and pressed plants and mushrooms are archived in a herbarium. Each specimen is mounted on a herbarium sheet and provided with a label on which, in addition to the species name, the date of discovery, the place of discovery and the collector are noted, and in some cases also the use. All major herbaria worldwide are registered in the "Index Herbariorum". The international abbreviation of the Herbarium Karlsruhe is KR. Herbarium plants have a very long shelf life if they are stored dry and free from insects. The oldest documents in Karlsruhe come from the founding period of the collection under Margravine Karoline Luise and are more than 250 years old.

However, the herbaria were not in good condition around 1900, as can be seen from correspondence with the Botanical Museum in Berlin-Dahlem. Therefore, from around 1888 onwards, real teachers Oehler, teachers Kneucker and seminar director Leutz tried to organize Schimper's collections. After 1905, A. Kneucker looked after the collections as a part-time curator, which he continued to manage after his retirement. The "Badisches Landesherbar" may have been his work. However, it was destroyed during the first air raid on Karlsruhe in 1942. The herbaria Kneucker (approx. 800 extensive bundles), Schimper and Zeyher burned outsourced in the castle.

After the war, the remains of the collection formed the basis for the reconstruction of today's vascular plant herbarium. In addition, important herbaria came to Karlsruhe through donations or purchases. The names Jauch, Loesch, Machule, Müller, Kraiss and Stoll should be mentioned here. The Herbar Döll is of particular importance.

In the last few decades, the collection of moss by G. Philippi (approx. 60,000 capsules) has been greatly expanded. The corresponding data entered the work "Die Moose Baden Württembergs". The peat mosses, which were processed in connection with the paleoecological research work in bogs by A. Holzer, also form a special focus (more than 15,000 capsules). A key result is the book published by Weissdorn-Verlag in 2010: "The Peat Moss of Southwest Germany and the Neighboring Areas".

The lichens in Karlsruhe were looked after by H. Schindler on a voluntary basis for many years. Since 2002, this collection has been expanded by the director (2001-2008) and lichen specialist V. Wirth.

The mycological collections only gained importance in the recent past with the appointment of the mycologist M. Scholler. He is also in charge of the algae collection, which mainly includes items from the 19th century.Today the botanical and mycological collections in the KR contain more than 495,000 specimens. This makes the collection one of the largest herbaria in Germany.

Many collections come from SW Germany, but especially older covers come from all over the world, including large parts of Europe, Asia, East Africa and South America. Great importance is attached to the collection of receipts by the company's own staff, since precise knowledge of the location is of particular importance.

The herbarium contains about 300,000 ferns and flowering plants, mosses (about 75,000 specimens), a lichen herbarium with about 6,000 specimens, a collection of algae (about 4,000 specimens). Fungi, which occupy a special position in botany, also belong to the herbarium. More than 110,000 documents have been recorded here to date.

The Herbarium KR is irreplaceable for is used for investigations into plant systematics, vegetation science, plant geography, nature conservation and ethnobotanical / ethnomycological investigations, and forms the basis for precise distribution maps, red lists, and exact identification of plant and fungal material.

Ethnobotany and Ethnomycology

Plants provide humanity with our most basic resources—food, medicines, fiber, building materials, and a range of other economically valuable products and essential services. However, habitat destruction, overharvesting of plants, the spread of invasive species, climate change and other human activities are having tremendous adverse impacts on plants and their ecosystems. As many plant species new to science are discovered each year, many are undoubtedly still awaiting discovery, and many are lost forever before we have a chance to find and study them and realize their potential. Many others that have been identified but have not yet been studied for their useful properties using modern methods are threatened with extinction. Perhaps never before in human history has there been a more urgent need to discover, understand, conserve and sustainably use the plant resources vital to human existence.

Ethnobotany and ethnomycology deal with the use of plants and fungi by humans. Ethnobotany and ethnomycology simply mean the study of plants and fungi used by people in different parts of the world, be it the Amazon Basin, the Himalayas, the Caucasus or the Black Forest.

Our work at the SMNK aims to discover and use the potential of plants and to conserve these resources. In this way we contribute to the discovery of new plant products. At the same time, we work with Indigenous and local communities to protect biodiversity-rich areas while preserving and reviving traditional knowledge of crops for the benefit of these communities and the well-being of humanity. All research by SMNK scientists is carried out with respect and strict safeguards for the rights of host countries under the provisions of CITES, the Convention on Biological Diversity and in particular the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing.

Although the idea of scientific ethnobotany was first proposed by the botanist John William Harshberger in the early 20th century, the works of Pedanius Dioscorides e.g. "De Materia Medica" on the medicinal and culinary properties of over 600 Mediterranean plant sites represent ethnobotanical works. The European botanical knowledge expanded drastically after the "New World" was "discovered". This increase in knowledge can be largely attributed to the substantial influx of new crops from the Americas, including crops such as potatoes, peanuts, avocados, and tomatoes.

From the 18th century onwards, botanical collections and gardens were often created, as was the case with the Margravine Karoline Luise in Karlsruhe, who created the botanical garden and the natural history cabinet, which today forms the basis of the SMNK. The founders and directors of the gardens and collections sent out botanists to collect plants to add to their collections.

The first modern ethnobotanist was Leopold Glück, a German doctor working in Sarajevo in the late 19th century. His work on the traditional medicinal use of plants by rural people in Bosnia (1896) can be considered the first modern ethnobotanical work.

Other issues include ethical concerns about interactions with indigenous peoples, and the International Society of Ethnobiology has created a code of ethics to guide researchers.