SLA-UCLA Tours the Mildred E. Mathias Herbarium and Botanical Garden at UCLA

A group of SLA-UCLA members had the opportunity to tour the elusive Herbarium on the UCLA campus this past week. None of us had been to the Herbarium, located in the Botany building on campus, and many had never been to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. The Herbarium and Botany building is located next to the gardens, overlooking the lovely paths and regional groupings of plants. Our guide for the three story Herbarium was Mr. Thomas Huggins, a trained ecologist who works for the Herbarium. The Herbarium was established in the 1930s, then located on north campus UCLA. It is the 3rd largest herbarium in the UC system behind UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

We began on the first floor where most the cataloging is done in an in-house designed Filemaker database. Much of the metadata entered is conferred from the specimen notes themselves and confirmed with the Jepson Manual, a California based herbarium authority. UCLA undergraduate students do most of the cataloging of specimens. Mr. Huggins then showed us the Herbarium’s small library filled with fascinating and technical books on botany – these books are for the Herbarium’s use only.

We then perused the preservation lockers filled with dry specimens (liquid specimens are also made on occasion, but we did not get to see them in any organized fashion). The organization system used throughout these “vaults” is based on a specimen type hierarchy rather than any numbered or tracked system most archives use to locate items on a shelf. Mr. Huggins described to us a beautiful system that exists between all herbariums called “specimen flux”, basically a trading of specimens between institutions depending on who needs them or any other myriad of research interests.

The Herbarium and Botanical garden’s namesake is Mildred E. Mathias, an expert in carrots, a dedicated botanist and true adventurer! Mr. Huggins showed us her original office, kept the way she left it since she passed away in 1995. Mildred discovered over 100 types of carrots in her life, authored over 100 articles on botany and had her own gardening television program at one point.

In the end, we all agreed that the Herbarium would be a great place for a UCLA MLIS graduate student to do field work in. Their collections would benefit from the touch of an archivist, however, Mr. Huggins and his dedicated staff are doing an amazing job of keeping track of this important data and history. Please visit the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden next time you have an hour to spare on the UCLA campus:


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