The Asteraceae (sunflower) family contains the largest number of species world-wide. Thus, it is often broken down into tribes or sub-families in order to make more sense of it. The genus Solidago contains the goldenrods for which there are about 100 species worldwide and 25+ species occurring in Louisiana alone. These plants are a prominent feature of the fall landscape across eastern North America. Goldenrods are characterized by rows of tiny yellow disk flowers atop a green, leafy, and upright stem. Distinguishing between different species of goldenrods can be very difficult, even to a trained botanist. Thus, curated herbarium specimens are highly valuable for comparative studies.

The Director of the Shirley C. Tucker Herbarium at Louisiana State University, Lowell Urbatsch, has been working with a goldenrod specialist in Canada, John Semple, who recently discovered two species never recorded in Louisiana, namely Solidago brachyphylla and S. rigidiuscula, indicating that there is still a lot to learn about this important genus.

Goldenrods are often blamed for fall allergies when they become prominent in fields and roadsides. However, this is not likely the case since the pollen is not airborne. Instead goldenrod pollen is carried by a plethora of insects that favor visiting these bright yellow flowers. Another member of the sunflower family, ragweed, blooms at the same time and in similar habitats, is far more likely the culprit of seasonal sniffles.


Locust borer feeding on goldenrod pollen

Louisiana State University will be hosting a WeDigBio event this weekend focused on transcription of this important genus.

Irene Moon and NFN

The University of California Santa Barbara Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration Director has an alter ego. She goes by the name Irene Moon, and she came into being decades ago when Katja Seltmann first started creating science-inspired performance art. Some of the performances are artier, but many of them are specifically created to Perform Science!

This intersection of science and art opens up interesting ways to communicate about natural history collections and science in popular culture. Seltmann and her partner, Yon Visell, have a weekly radio show called “Unknown Territories”, an hour-long cultural arts program on the UCSB campus radio station, KCSB 91.9fm. The show airs on Monday 10-1100am PT and streams online at



Several of her recordings of science inspired radio shows are available online. You can listen to interviews with researchers about various topics including rust, evolution and field recordings through the Let’s Talk Science series. Recent shows are archived through the Internet Archive and found on the Unknown Territories website. Just like with the collection data she puts online, all of these recordings are all released under Creative Common licenses for reuse, or put into the Public Domain.

Natural history collections work has inspired much of the music, and Irene has several pieces for radio that are specifically about natural history collections. “Curator Bill” is a fictional character that appears throughout the radio pieces, and the audio introduction to Bill.



So next time you need perk up a boring lecture for that intro bio class, think about singing songs in a gold jacket, or create music about the topic. She has performed absurd Scientifically Speaking with Irene Moon musical lectures where collections are highlighted as the character of one of her personal heroes, EO Wilson. “Most of the lectures are done in late night musical venues, rock clubs, and raves. The information is factual, inspired by research, and people do learn when they least expect it.”

Find out more at

Check out some of her performances at the links below.

My Queen and I

Sneaky Little Sneak

EO Wilson Song

Meditation on Odonata


Editor’s Note: Katja Seltmann is one of the Curators participating in this weeks WeDigBio Events. You can check out her current expedition (California Plants) on the NFN Herbarium page.

WeDig Tropical Ferns!

We are excited to join folks all over the world participating in WeDigBio by sharing these spectacular photos of neotropical ferns. The plant diversity in the American tropics is stunning, and it is not uncommon for new species to be found, already collected, hiding in the herbarium! We love transcribing labels for these plants because the specimens are so beautiful. It’s fun to imagine what these tropical ecosystems are like. Please join us in the exploration!

WeDigBio kicks off today – help us set our Natural History collections free!

wedigbioThere has been a flurry of activity at Notes from Nature these past few days, as a number of new Expeditions join us in the Plants section, and new sections for Aquatics and Fossils are launched, all in time for the 3-day
WeDig Bio event that launched today!

Starting in Australia….

AUS hand-over.pngIt all kicked off at the Australian Museum, where the  DigiVol  team gathered a group of volunteers to spend the day transcribing some fascinating specimens – check out their projects here: You can help out with these projects at any time, or if that’s your corner of the world, why not join them on Saturday for a great chance to hang-out with others interested in Biodiversity Collections around the world?

….over to Europe – live in London at the time of writing ….

visiteersAs the planet turned, we were handed the baton here in London at the Natural History Museum, where we have a team of Visiteers joining us in our Specimen Preparation Area in the Cocoon, helping us to transcribe our ‘Killer Within’ chalcid slides. These tiny wasps are parasitoids, meaning they lay their eggs inside other insects.

When chalcid eggs hatch, the emerging larvae eat the inside of their host. They then grow and pupate until mature enough to burst out as adults, finally killing the host. These tiny creatures play a very important role as biological control agents – they are the natural enemy of a wide range of insect pests that damage our food crops, thus reducing the need for chemicals and pesticides, and saving a significant amount of money as well. You can join us too!

Primulaceae from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

primulasWe’re joined by our London neighbour Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, who have launched their Primulaceae Expedition in the Herbarium section.

The tropical Primulaceae form a species-rich but poorly known group. Research at Kew aims to further understand the taxonomy, evolution and diversification of the family to mirror our understanding of the temperate Primulaceae.  When thinking of Primulaceae, most of us will picture the spring flowers primroses and cowslips.

These are not only charismatic wild flowers but are also important in horticulture. Traditionally, Primulaceae contained only temperate herbaceous groups and whilst known to be very closely related to Myrsinaceae, was kept separate, primarily on account of Myrsinaceae being woody and tropical. However, based on a suite of similar morphological characters and more recent DNA evidence, all species of Myrsinaceae have been placed in Primulaceae. Come take a look!

Amaranthaceae from the Botanischer Garten Berlin

amarantaceaeAnd just a short trip down to the European continent, we are joined by  the Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin, and their newly launched Amaranthaceae Expedition in the Herbarium.

These plants represent the most species-rich lineage within the flowering plant order of Caryophyllales, and are economically important to study because they include vegetables such as spinach (Spinacia oleracea) or forms of beet (Beta vulgaris) (beetroot, chard), and ‘pseudocereals’ such as lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium berlandieri), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and kañiwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule).

A number of species are popular garden ornamental plants, (such as Alternanthera, Amaranthus, Celosia, and Iresine), others are considered weeds (such as redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) and alligatorweed (Alternanthera philoxeroides)), and many others cause pollen allergies.

Up Next: North America

Where will you visit? What projects will you join?


Now it’s your turn!

Your help transcribing these specimen labels will allow many more scientists around the world to study the mechanisms of their evolution and investigate biological diversity around the world.

It is essential to link information about organisms and specimens in the collections, to secure this data sustainably and to make it widely accessible and usable. You are helping us to make these collections accessible around the world, and this important information on biodiversity available to everyone.

If you’d like to find an event happening near you, check out the WeDigBio event listings. But you can take part in any of these digitisation projects, from anywhere in the world!


Unlocking Northeastern Forests: Nature’s Laboratories for Global Change

Though plants provide the food, shelter, and oxygen that sustain all other living beings, we are only beginning to understand how even the most familiar plant ecosystems are responding to environmental disturbances such as pollution, human land-use and global climate change. Fortunately to understand our future, we can also look to signs from the past.

Historic plant collections can provide an essential perspective for studying long-term changes in these environments because they chronicle distinct species–and whole communities of organisms–that have lived in particular places and at different points in time. Right now, the New York Botanical Garden is partnering with 14 other research institutions to develop a groundbreaking new dataset for all specimens of vascular plants collected from the Northeast US*.


By connecting this network of researchers to the data captured by 1.3 million preserved specimens, participants in this citizen science expedition will help to illuminate subtle variations in species richness and forest composition over time. With your help, understanding how changes in the environment have affected the forests of yesterday will help us to predict how current human behavior will shape the forests of tomorrow!

*This project is funded by an award from the National Science Foundation (EF-1503583)


Charles Zimmerman, Herbarium Collections & Outreach Administrator, The New York Botanical Garden

New specimen type: Aquatic insects

We are excited to embark on a new insect-themed expedition, Aquatic Insects of the Southeastern United States. This expedition will delve into the ‘wet’ portion of the Clemson University Arthropod Collection, where vast holdings of aquatic insects are preserved and curated. Aquatic insects are a very diverse group, covering some members of nearly all the insect orders (from larval flies to adult beetles), and all the members of several large orders, like mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and dragon- and damselflies.

Aquatic insects are important because most have rather narrow environmental tolerances, and are very sensitive to changes in water temperature and quality – they are important sentinels, or canaries in the aquatic coal mine, helping scientists and environmental professionals measure aquatic ecosystem health and water quality. By improving our understanding of their historical distributions around the southeastern United States, we will be that much better able to assess and interpret modern and future changes in their distributions and abundances.

Participants in this expedition will encounter members of most of the major aquatic groups (as well as a few other soft-bodied insects preserved in our alcoholic collections.) The specimens come largely from the higher elevations of western South Carolina, but specimens from the lowcountry, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and other southeastern states pop up here and there as well. Most of these come directly or indirectly from the efforts of Dr. John Morse (a caddisfly specialist who’s been at Clemson for over 40 years!), his students, and their collaborators. So these records will also contribute greatly to our appreciation of his/their enormous contributions to understanding southeastern aquatic insect biodiversity.
We hope you’ll join us!

Fossil preparator badges

We are excited about launching two new “themes” this week in advance of WeDigBio.  Yesterday, we launched our first fossil themed expedition, and we want to let you know about some cool badges you can get for helping us with efforts to transcribe fossil trilobite labels.  You gain the first badge, Junior Preparator (shown large below) for just taking part and doing 1 transcription.  The Senior Preparator badge is earned for completing 10 transcriptions and the Curator badge for completing 100.  Get all three!

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