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PSU biology students visit Missouri Botanical Gardens

Seven Pitt State students traveled to St. Louis to visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens (MBG) as part of a special public service project. 

Led by associate professor of botany and director of Sperry Herbarium Neil Snow, students Rachel Steier, Maggie Murray, Ashton McManis, Adam Pistorious, Ryan McGinty, Claire Campbell and graduate student Caitlyn Sanders participated in sorting nearly 2,500 specimens for the MBG Herbarium.  Using the knowledge and skills acquired from Snow and working in PSU’s own Sperry Herbarium, the students were up to the task. 

“It was awesome to see what we do in our little herbarium here does impact the second biggest one in the world, as well as the world in general,” Steier said. 

With nearly 100,000 specimen acquisitions each year, each must be meticulously studied, identified and organized based on family, genus, geographical location and other criteria.  Researchers such as Snow assist in this process, but reorganization is left up to the Herbarium.   

“The (Botanical) Gardens sends out thousands of specimens every year for researchers out on loan,” Snow said.  “When researchers are finished, typically they return with an annotation slip, which confirms the identification.  All of those specimens need to be refiled, and that’s a huge job.” 

The students were amazed at first, considering the vast differences in size and scope of the Botanical Garden and their usual Sperry Herbarium. 

“It was kind of mindboggling to be completely honest,” Steier said.  “You step into our building, our Sperry Herbarium that we have here has 65,000 specimens in it, and the Missouri Botanical Garden has almost 7 million specimens in it.” 

In addition to the plethora of plant specimens, MBG also holds numerous artifacts related to study of plant life. 

“We saw books that were from the 1400s and 1500s that are literally still bound, still existing with scribbles in the margins where scientists from the 1500s were doing research that lead us to where we are now,” Steier said.  “That’s incredible to me.” 

Also as part of their trip, the students were treated to a behind the scenes look at the St. Louis Zoo’s conservation program for threatened and endangered species.  

“The St. Louis Zoo has quite a large production of these aquatic salamanders called hellbenders,” Snow said.  “They have fertilized eggs brought in every year from the wild.  They incubate, grow them up and they must have around 300 or 400 tanks with hellbenders in various stages of development up to maybe three or four years old.” 

Snow believes the rare opportunity of getting such an in-depth look at the zoo’s conservation efforts resonated with his students.  

“I think the students really appreciated that tour because St. Louis Zoo is a major player in animal conservation and has been a leader in animal conservation for decades now,” Snow said.  “That tour that we got, most people don’t get.” 

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