BLACKSBURG—The Massey Herbarium, a museum collection with dried planted specimens, is tucked away in the Virginia Tech’s Derring Hall.
It was founded in approximately 1927 and today has over 115,000 specimens of vascular plant, fungi, bryophytes and lichens. It is the largest herbarium in Virginia and has long been a critical resource for understanding the southeastern USA flora.
Arthur Ballad Massey was a VT microbiologist professor in the Department of Plant Pathology starting in 1918. The herbarium was officially founded in about 1927 after decades of informal usage.
Massey grew the collection to 40,000 specimens before his retirement in 1959. He also focused on documenting plant distributions in Virginia as an early step in producing a new state flora.
Since then, the Massey Herbarium seamlessly integrates leading-edge multi-disciplinary research to solve complex issues of local to global relevance involving the southeastern flora with preparing the next generation of scientists and educating the public in diverse ways.
The most celebrated accomplishment of the herbarium was the publication of The Flora of Virginia book in 2012. It was the first time a thorough record of Virginia’s plants had been published since the 1700s.
VT staff at the Massey Herbarium was involved in the writing. Specimens from the herbarium were used in the maps and line drawings by botanical illustrators in the book.
This publication was a monumental event for naturalists, scientists and native plant enthusiasts in Virginia. With 3,164 species, this book has been become an invaluable reference for botanically-minded residents. Now, there is an app.
It is time to celebrate these accomplishments. The herbarium is partnering with other VT campus and community organizations to bring six weeks of exhibits, activities, workshops, and contests to the area.
Exhibit activities will occur across the Virginia Tech campus and the New River Valley during February and March.
Dr. Jordan Metzgar is the curator of the Massey Herbarium and is organizing the exhibits, lectures, workshops on the history of botany in Virginia that runs until March 16.
Metzgar and his staff are working with VT organizations to provide events. The Herbarium itself will have a panel display covering the botanical history of Virginia over the last few centuries.
This display was created by the Library of Virginia to celebrate the publication of the Flora of Virginia in 2012. The Special Collections in the University Libraries at VT will have several historical items on display, including an original copy of the Flora Virginia from 1739. Several of Mark Catesby’s illustrations from 1771 featuring native plants will also be on display.
The Hahn Horticulture Garden is sponsoring a visit from Lara Call Gastinger, who illustrated much of the Flora of Virginia. Gastinger will deliver a workshop and a seminar on botanical illustrations on March 15 at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
As a botanical artist, Gastinger will present her field journals, illustrations and watercolor paintings. She will demonstrate how science and art are combined in her profession.
Also, Gastinger will provide supplies and teach illustration techniques to observe, draw and properly a plant specimen. Registration and payment for these two events are required by email email@example.com or by phone 231-5970.
A more active and free event will occur Saturday, March 3 when noted dendrologist Dr. John Seiler will lead interested individuals on a winter tree identification hike in Stadium Woods.
Metzgar is quite excited about the youth events being offered by the Massey Herbarium. Specimens and make-your-own-specimen craft activity for a Botany Day at SEEDS, the Blacksburg Nature Center at 107 SE Wharton St. on Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Botany Day will also be held at with the Christiansburg Library STEM Club on Feb. 12 from 1-2 p.m. at 125 Sheltman St.
“I also wanted to take the events beyond the VT campus, so we have outreach events at the SEEDS and have activities at the Christiansburg Library. The library is lending us space to have a botanical discovery station during the month of February,” Metzgar said. “The station will have hands-on plant collecting tools, our Specimen Selfie Frame, and coloring sheets for local plants. It will feature our brand new, kid-friendly digital microscope.”
Metzgar and another VT botanist are Lego enthusiasts. They designed a Botanical Bricks contest.
“I thought combining Lego with plants was a good way to encourage kids to think about plants. Hopefully, they will learn new things about plants while they create a botanical Lego creation; maybe how plants are structured, or how they form much of the physical world around us, or how diverse plant colors and shapes are in nature,” Metzgar said.
Judges will examine submissions of actual Lego creations, drawings and photographs that combine Lego mini-figures or pieces with actual plants.
Entries will be judged in different age brackets and the top winners in each category will receive Lego sets.
Kids in grades kindergarten through 12th grade can see entry instructions at www.masseyherbarium.org/contest.
There will be a station for the Botanical Bricks Contest at the Christiansburg Library with lots of Lego pieces, Lego coloring sheets, live plants and entry instructions.
For more information regarding the Flora of Virginia events and other herbarium or garden events, visit www.masseyherbarium.org/fov/ and www.hort.vt.edu.