Hurricane Katrina plant specimens returned to Selby Gardens

It is common practice for herbaria around the world to lend plant specimens to each other for study by their staff botanists. At any one time, approximately 5,000 specimens from the Selby Gardens herbarium are out on loan to various institutions; our orchid, bromeliad, and gesneriad collections are in great demand by scientists studying these plant families. In most cases, the specimens are carefully stored in specially designed cabinets, and it is rare for them to sustain damage. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, however, we questioned whether the 17 bromeliad specimens on loan to the University of New Orleans would escape the destruction. Hearing no word from the university curators during the years following the hurricane, we assumed the worse. We received a pleasant surprise recently when a box containing all of the specimens was returned to us. Most of them were in good condition, with only three showing some water damage. A note accompanying the shipment read: “In the aftermath of Katina, while our main campus was without power and closed for Fall 05, our building was left open with doors not only unlocked, but also propped open. Theoretically, this was so that the building could be remediated for mold. The result was predictable, vandalism and theft. Our files including those of herbarium loans were trashed and impossible to reconstruct.” It is unfortunate to lose the herbarium loan paperwork, but the actual specimens are much more valuable, and we are glad to have them back home. We will attach a small note on the specimens to document their historic journey to the center of the storm and back. A herbarium specimen of the family Bromeliaceae that suffered water damage while on loan to the University of New Orleans herbarium during Hurricane Katrina is pictured above.