Deanna Csomo McCool | September 26, 2017
South Bend biologist Victor Riemenschneider spent his professional life collecting, preserving and mounting plants from northern Indiana. An associate professor emeritus of biology at Indiana University-South Bend (IUSB), he was in a quandary about where to keep his collection for posterity.
Because IUSB did not have a herbarium, essentially an environmentally controlled library of mounted plant samples, he knew he could not safely keep his 759-piece collection there. The IU-Bloomington campus contained a herbarium, but the curator was retiring when Riemenschneider started considering donating his collection, bringing the fate of his life’s work into question. Also, if the collection was moved out of the area, Riemenschneider feared knowledge of plant distribution since the 1970s, essential in pinpointing signs of climate change or other issues, could be lost.
Notre Dame’s Greene-Nieuwland Herbarium, however, was stable. It was also the largest herbarium in the state and a recognized repository for specimens and information resulting from state research of the flora. And Riemenschneider knew Barbara Hellenthal, the curator who cares for the herbarium’s 280,000 preserved plants collected from the early 1800s to the present. Each plant specimen (including berries and pine cones) is carefully filed in folders and stored in floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the museum, located on the first floor of Jordan Hall. So Riemenschneider entrusted his collection to Notre Dame.
Riemenschneider and Hellenthal both stressed the importance of specimen collection for understanding plant evolutionary relationships. Failing to collect a species can create holes in knowledge. For example, Riemenschneider discovered plants in the late 1970s or early 1980s in Pulaski County’s Sandhill Nature Preserve that were actually coastal plant species pushed there from the Ice Age, growing in the sand where trees were only beginning to sprout.