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Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Book With Some Very Unusual Leaves: Martin Hering's Minen-Herbarium (1929-1938)

Larix Decidua Mill. (European Larch) specimen no. 121
with contents sheet for Lfg. 7
 It's late autumn in the Washington, D.C. area, and the pathways are strewn with crunchy dried leaves that whisk about in the breeze. The distinctive shapes and colors of the leaves makes their trees of origin easily identifiable: elm; oak; maple; and tulip poplar. As a child, I liked to collect some of the prettiest leaves and press them flat between the pages of books, and in my work as a cataloger I occasionally come across a few dried leaves and blossoms that have been preserved in books as seasonal mementos by their former owners.

However, seeing a dried sprig or two tucked away in a book hardly prepared me for the surprise that awaited when I saw the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' set of Minen-Herbarium. Here were 22 portfolios containing 440 mounted specimens of dried plant leaves and stems. As I looked more closely at the specimens, it became clear that the plant samples had been carefully selected by the compiler of the collection to illustrate specific plant and insect relationships through traces of damage caused by the larvae of various species of leaf-mining insects.

Portfolio cover for Lfg. 4 of Minen-Herbarium,
with contents list
The portfolios (or Lieferungen) of Minen-Herbarium have very little textual information. There is a printed contents guide mounted on the front of each portfolio, with another copy of the contents guide laid inside. Otherwise, the only explanatory information is stamped on the folded pieces of paper that contains the mounted specimens. Each sheet of paper records the species of plant, the species of leaf-mining insect that attacked the plant, the place the specimen was collected (usually in Germany or Spain), and the month and year of collection. The insect species featured in the specimens generally come from the orders of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Diptera (true flies), or Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, bees and ants). One of the delights of browsing through these specimens is seeing the various German terms that have been used to describe the different categories of leaf-mining insects based on the type of damage they create, such as: Faltenmine; Jugendmine; Fleckmine; Blasenmine; Jugendgangmine; Gangplatzmine; Platzmine; Gangmine; and Spiralmine.

Acer Plantanoides L.
(Norway Maple) specimen
no. 221
Minen-Herbarium was issued one portfolio at a time between the years 1929 and 1938, with each portfolio containing a printed contents page and twenty numbered specimens. The editor who oversaw the project, Erich Martin Hering (1893-1967), was a noted German entomologist who worked as a curator at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, where he specialized in the study of leaf-mining insects. In researching this publication online, I occasionally found references to the set in articles and specialized bibliographies, but I did not see any other copies of the work listed in the various national libraries and union catalogs. Since it was such a massive undertaking to collect hundreds of specimens from various plants --especially to find samples showing the presence of leaf-mining insects -- few complete copies of the set were probably issued. Did the compilers finish the project as they had envisioned it, or did the untimely approach of World War II force an early end before all the specimens could be collected? If anyone has more information about the circumstances of the production of Minen-Herbarium, I hope he or she will share it in the comments section of this blog.

Text for Acer Plantanoides L. (Norway
Maple), specimen no. 221,
collected in Berlin, May, 1932
The portfolios of Minen-Herbarium in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History complement the United States National Herbarium, which is part of the collections of the Botany Department in the National Museum of Natural History, containing over 4.5 million botanical specimens. Minen-Herbarium is also a helpful resource for researchers in the Department of Entomology of the National Museum of Natural History who are interested in the historical range and variety of insect pests and their host plants. The plant specimens that were selected and preserved so carefully by the compilers of the Minen-Herbarium nearly 100 years ago have a perfect home here at the Smithsonian, where the grand challenge of "understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet" puts the spotlight on treasures such as these for the stories they can tell (even without words) about the complex interrelationships found among species on Earth. More information on leafminers can be found in the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center, including publications by researchers on the staff of the National Museum of Natural History, as well as links to specimens in the Department of Entomology's collections.

Minen-Herbarium, herausgegeben von M. Hering. [probably privately published at Berlin by M. Hering], 1929-1983. Cullman Library call number SB945.L55H47 1929 Lfg. 1-22 SCNHRB

Diane Shaw
Special Collections Cataloger

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! As a gardener, I'm forever squinting at the insect damage on my plants. Since I refuse to spray insecticides, I usually have plenty to look at. How wonderful that someone created such a beautiful set of examples and what interesting questions about the completion of the series of portfolios. Thanks for sharing!