Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames

by | Jan 9, 2005

Harvard’s Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames (AMES) contains about 131,000 specimens, in addition to a library of about 5,000 books, reprints, and journals. The herbarium also houses a collection of 3,000 flowers in glycerine, 4,000 pickled specimens, and hundreds of line drawings supplement dried specimens in the main collection.

Oakes Ames, who held a variety of botanical teaching and administrative positions at Harvard until his death in 1950, started the herbarium. He became interested in horticulture as a child since his father had several greenhouses at the family home in North Easton, Massachusetts.

“[A]mong the plants purchased was a small collection of orchids,” which would be Ames’s introduction to the plant family that would become his life’s work (Mangelsdorf ix). The New York Botanical Garden’s N.L. Britton furthered this interest in orchidology by suggesting to Ames that “the classification of the Orchidaceae was almost hopelessly confused” and that it would take “not only a brilliant taxonomist, but extensive financial support” to develop a proper organization of the family (Schultes 70). Ames’s work in with orchids led him to amass a large living collection, as well as an extensive orchid herbarium, with a library and collection of photographs and paintings (including paintings by his wife, Blanche Ames). The living collection was donated to the New York Botanical Garden and the herbarium and library are now part of the Harvard University Herbaria.

This herbarium is exceptionally rich in types, with some 6,000 holotypes and 4,000 isotypes represented, resulting from an active exchange program maintained throughout the years by the staff of the herbarium. An exceptional collection of types and drawings of types was received from both Rudolf Schlechter and Rudolf Mansfeld at the Berlin-Dahlem herbarium, the collections of which were largely destroyed during World War II. During 1985 and 1986 important collections, as determined by now retired Curator Leslie Garay, were photographed and a microfiche edition prepared and made available to the botanical community. Gustavo Romero is responsible for curation of the Orchid Herbarium.

Current research at AMES includes the orchids of Neotropical island-like, unique habitats, the systematics of subtribesCatasetinae, Cyrtopodiinae, Lycastinae (Bifrenaria alliance), and Zygopetalinae (Warrea and Zygopetalum alliances) for the orchid flora of the Venezuelan Guayana and surrounding countries (Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana) and several other Neotropical floras, as well as computerization of types and various herbarium card files.


The information above was provided by the Herbarium website: <http://www.huh.harvard.edu/collections/oakes.htm>.

Fall 2004/Winter 2005Volume III, Number 1

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