What is a Weed? Display of Student Weed Collections at Hutchins Library

One of the specimens on display.

One of the specimens on display.

The library is featuring a display of weed specimens by students from SENS/ANR 386C (Weed Management) class. The display is located right next the Reference Desk by the library’s main entrance. It will remain in place until about the end of January 2014.

Associate Professor Nancy Gift, Program Chair for Sustainability & Environmental Studies and Compton Chair of Sustainability, writes with more information about the display and the class:

What is a Weed?

A weed is simply “a plant out of place.”  In Weed Management (SENS/ANR 386C), students have learned weed identification and management skills for lawns, vegetables, orchards, field crops, woodlands, and pastures.  Each student submitted a weed collection of 30 weedy plants pressed, with guidance and materials from Professor Emeritus Ralph Thompson, and mounted (with glue) on acid-free paper.  Plants are identified by family name, common name, and scientific name, along with the date collected, the location, and the name of the plant collector.  Samples like these are kept in a herbarium, which is simply a library of plant samples.  Berea College hosts two herbaria: a small herbarium of weeds in a cabinet in Goldthwaite 304, and a larger, more significant collection on the second floor of the Science Building.

Herbarium specimens can yield a wide variety of data: plant geographic distributions, historic dates of flowering and seed set, genetic data, and phenotypic variation (leaf size, shape, flower traits, etc.).  Climate change can be tracked using herbarium specimens, as can the spread of invasive plant species.  Students in Weed Management took care to show both sides of the leaves, to press flowers with their reproductive organs visible, and to mount the plant to best demonstrate its growth form in the wild.  Coincidentally, the specimens are also beautiful – a fact which challenges our notions of the distinctions between weeds and cultivated plants, or between weeds and wildflowers.

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