The most scientifically significant part of our botanical collection is probably the Collings Collection of lichens which formed part of the Guille-Allès Museum's collection. Like most of our botanical and other scientific material, these are reference specimens, preserved as proof that a particular organism was present at a particular place and time.
For the most part dried specimens of plants do not make good display pieces. With the exception of particularly large or interestingly shaped seeds and their containers, most preserved plant parts loose all the form and colour which made them attractive in life. Some museums have tried to emulate nature with elaborate models or, more recently freeze-dried real plants but Guernsey has never gone down that route. The standard way of preserving botanical specimens is to press and dry them after which they are mounted on paper 'herbarium sheets'. When suitably labelled with location and date information these are the normal voucher specimens which prove (or later disprove!) published plant distribution records. Although the museum does hold several hundred higher plant herbarium sheets, their scientific importance is not as great as our collections of lichens and marine algae or seaweeds.
Collings Collection of Lichens
Louisa Elizabeth Collings (1818-1887) was the daughter of prominent local antiquarian, naturalist and collector Frederick Corbin Lukis. She married William T Collings, the Seigneur of Sark and, as Mrs Collings, was well known as a keen amateur lichenologist who swapped specimens with other like-minded people. She also supplied a list of over 150 Guernsey lichen species to the authors of an 1862 book about the Channel Islands. Her collection of lichens was left to the Guille-Allès Museum which was only a few years old at the time of her death. The collection includes much material from another prominent lichenologist and family friend, the Jersey-based Charles du Bois Larbalestier. It is contained in a series of 32 folders and small box files, probably as originally presented, and the total specimen count is just over 1300. There is a strong suspicion that Louisa developed her interest in lichens from her father and that many of the local specimens may originally have belonged to him before being passed on to his daughter.
Collecting and pressing plants of all kinds was a popular Victorian pastime, with seaweeds presenting a particularly rewarding challenge. A number of albums containing both ordinary plants and marine algae as decorative items found their way into the collections of the Guille-Allès Museum but there was also one serious academic collection of seaweeds presented early in the 20th century. This was gathered by a visiting botanist named Lilian Lyle (1890-1936) who also donated material to the British Museum (Natural History) and the National Museum of Wales. It consists of both dried specimens mounted on traditional paper sheets and microscope slide preparations. Lists of her local seaweed gatherings were published in the Transactions of the Guernsey Society of Natural Science (later La Société Guernesiaise).
As mentioned above, we do have a small selection of exotic seeds and economic botany samples, together with some hundred higher plant herbarium sheets. These include a substantial collection of ferns given to the Guille-Allès Museum by a Mr Sharpe and several series of flowering plants without specific attribution. The ferns seem to be a product of the Victorian 'Fern Craze' and include a wide range of exotic forms though the data with them records distribution rather than a specific point of collection.
The island's main working herbarium is maintained by La Societe Guernesiaise and was originally started in the late 19th century to support the compilation of E D Marquand's 1901 published Flora of Guernsey. La Societe also own the historic eighteenth century herbarium of Joshua Gosselin, a local crown official and accomplished artist. Reproductions of some of Gosselin's artworks are available through our Prints Online service.