Lucy Cranwell was Auckland Museum’s curator of Botany from 1929 to 1943. Along with her knowledge of botany, Cranwell was an expert in palynology (the study of fossil pollens) and in 1935-36 she travelled to the Gothenburg Herbarium in Sweden to study under Lennart von Posta, the founder of pollen analysis. The director of the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens at that time was Carl Skottsberg, a respected and much published Swedish botanist and phytogeographer.
Shortly after her return to New Zealand, Cranwell secured funding from the Bishop Museum in Hawai’i for a 6-month fellowship to examine Hawaiian montane bog habitats, a likely location of fossil pollen. The Hawaiian Bog Survey was conducted between June and September 1938, under the direction of Carl Skottsberg. In addition to fossil pollen, Cranwell, Skottsberg and Olaf Spelling (another palynologist) collected many flowering plant specimens. Skottsberg had previously collected plants during expeditions to the Hawaiian islands in 1922 and 1926, and had named several new Hawaiian plant species in the Swedish journal Acta Horti Gottoburgensis. The names of the newly discovered plant species from the 1938 Hawaiian Bog Survey were published in Vol. XV of the same journal in 1944. The physical specimens, however, were distributed to various herbaria: the Bishop Museum, Gothenburg Herbarium and Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Plant specimens in herbaria are frequently mounted on a sheet. New plant names, if validly published, are referred to as types and a specimen upon which a new plant name and description is based is a type specimen. The type specimen becomes the ultimate reference sheet for that name. Sometimes several collections are made from the same location, known as the type locality, and are distributed as duplicates to interested herbaria. This means that types for the same species name may be held in more than one institution.
As a Collection Technician for the IDEA project, part of my role is to record hitherto uncatalogued foreign plant specimens held within Auckland Museum’s extensive herbarium. Until these are catalogued their very existence is frequently unknown, including to staff. The aim is to bring these to light and to make them accessible to researchers and the public alike. Once catalogued, the data is accessible through Collections Online, Auckland Museum’s online catalogue. It is also automatically uploaded to GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility), an international network that aims to provide global open access to data about all types of life on earth. Type specimens also appear on JSTOR Global Plants (a database of digitised plant specimens and a site for international scientific research and collaboration).
It is expected that several type specimens will come to light throughout this project, so to identify them it is helpful to access the original publications describing them. The original description of the plant itself, otherwise known as the protologue, ideally includes the collector, collection date, exact locality where the plant was collected, and a reference number. Identifying a type is not always a straightforward process. It is often difficult to find the protologue in the first place, let alone interpreting the data. Many publications have not been digitised, and so cannot be found online. This was the case for the Hawaii Bog Survey journals, held in Gothenburg.
Despite the best efforts of the Auckland Museum librarian just a few pages relating to my specimens could be secured at a time - and this was only if I knew the specific volume and pages of the journal I needed to access. One of my early difficulties was that volume references did not seem consistent, and the titles of the original Gothenburg publications were cited variously as Acta Horti Gottoburgensis, Meddelanden från Göteborgs Botaniska Trädgard and Meddelanden från Göttenborgs Botaniska Trädgard.
I contacted Bishop Museum, but they did not have a complete copy of the protologue. I then contacted Gothenburg Herbarium directly. The curator, Claes Gustafsson, promptly sent all the relevant papers digitised in 4 separate pdf files. Luckily, they are in English and searchable. Since receiving these files I have been able to search directly within them to confirm new types in our collection. One such type specimen is AK25603 Panicum alakaiense Skottsb. Although the plant description is in Latin; the collection details are in English and an exact match for those written on our specimen sheet. The plant name created by Skottsberg for the pictured specimen has since been revised to Dichanthelium cynodon, but his original name is still of intrinsic value to our records.
Research on JSTOR Global Plants confirms AK25603 as a type specimen. Furthermore, another type specimen of Panicum alakaiense collected during the Hawaiian survey has been located in the Bishop Museum. So far, type specimens for no fewer than eighteen species collected during the Hawaiian Bog Survey have been identified within the collections of Auckland Museum, twelve of them during the IDEA project.
Hawai’i, being isolated and far removed from major land masses, has evolved a unique flora that has still not been fully explored, and is currently under threat from urbanisation and introduced pests. It is hoped that the digitisation of the Gottenberg papers, and the use to which they can be put in enhancing the museum’s knowledge of the specimens it holds, will prove of interest to other herbaria and to anyone concerned with Hawaiian flora.
Cite this article
Cataloguing Hawaiian Flora with International Cooperation. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 2 June 2022. Updated: 8 July 2022.
Cameron, E. K. 2018: Lucy Cranwell - Pioneering young curator, adventurous and outstanding. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 12 07 2018. www.aucklandmuseum.com/discover/stories/blog/2018/lucy-cranwell
Cameron, E. K. 2000: Obituary: Lucy May Cranwell, MA,DSc, DSc (Hon), FLS (Lond.), FRSNZ, 1907 - 2000. New Zealand Journal of Botany 38: 527 – 535 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0028825X.2000.9512702
Cranwell, L. M. 1939: Fossil pollens, a Key to the Vegetation of the Past. N.Z. J. Sci. Tech. 19: 628-645
GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) https://www.gbif.org/species/
JSTOR Global Plants https://plants.jstor.org/
Salisbury, E. J. 1964: Carl Johan Fredrik Skottsberg, 1880-1963. Biog. Mems. Fell. R. Soc. 10: 245-256 https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsbm.1964.0015
Selling, O. H. 1946-1948: Studies in Hawaiian Pollen Statistics. Honolulu, HI: Bishop Museum Special Publication Nos.37-39
Skottsberg, C. 1925: Juan Fernandez and Hawaii : a phytogeographical discussion. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 16
Skottsberg C. 1944: Vascular Plants of the Hawaiian Islands. IV Phanerogams collected during the Hawaiian Bog Survey 1938. Acta Horti Gottoburgensis Vol. XV. Meddelanden fran Göteborgs Botaniska Trädgard. Goteborg.15:294-295