Discovery of something unknown can always be an exciting moment. Thus, while cleaning at Holy Family College in the science areas, particularly Biology, Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Marlene Schwaller opened file cabinets that contained hundreds of folders and hundreds of matching index cards.
A sign above the door identified this room as Sister Teresita Kittell’s Herbarium. Her next thought: “To save or not to save.” She brought several folders to Sister Caritas Strodthoff.
Each folder contained an individually pressed, perfectly preserved plant sample. In the lower right corner was a typed or handwritten label that included: Biological name of the plant, common name, locality collected from, type of habitat found in, date of collection, person collecting the specimen and an identification number. Some of these went back as far as 1945. Some of the Sisters who collected specimens included: Sisters Teresita Kittell, Mary Lyle, Ruth Ann Meyers, Rosalyn Muraski, Julia Marie Van Denack, Xaveria Wittmann, Imelda Ann Dickrell, Christopher and many more. A stack of newspapers still held individually drying specimens.
The collection was far too large for the archives plus it needed to be made available to someone who could process it and use it for educational purposes. It was noted that some of these plants came from numerous roadsides, parks, beaches in Manitowoc County. Woodland Dunes Nature Center came to mind. Its goal in this area: “to protect our globally important habitat by maintaining its ecological integrity, and to educate our community in understanding and appreciating the value of nature.” After lots of prayers, Jim Knikelbine was contacted and he excitedly took the entire collection that amounted to at least 25 large boxes and index cards. By the next day his assistant was already working on the folders.
Sister Teresita was a true lover of all of God’s creation. In 1941 her PhD dissertation was titled: A Critical Revision of the Compositae of Arizona and New Mexico. A 900-page book was later published. She put together two booklets: Ferns of Manitowoc County and a List of Trees on Holy Family College Campus. Through the woods behind the baseball field she developed The St. Francis Trail which led across the valley to the middle cemetery, since flooded out. If you look hard, you can still find trees around the Motherhouse that are labeled with metal identification markers!
But why was this collection so important? A little sleuthing identified that “A herbarium is a critical resource for biodiversity, ecological, and evolutionary research studies. It is a primary data source of dried and labeled plant specimens that is arranged to allow for easy retrieval access and archival storage. Herbaria consist of specimens that have been collected over broad geographic ranges and over many years.”
Because they are historical records linked to a time and place, lost collections cannot be replaced. Moreover, many populations documented in herbaria no longer exist and others are now protected. Furthermore, some specimens cannot be replaced due to the imposition of constraints on collecting. Therefore, ASPT strongly advises institutions to maintain their collections in perpetuity. Once an institution divests itself of a collection the institution can never regain the benefits associated with the collection. (Taken from multiple internet sources describing herbariums.)