In Clarence's Time - how to get botanical samples down the mountain

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Susie and I are delighted to have acquired this delightful-looking vasculum... a tin cylinder with a shoulder strap in which to put botanical samples for transport back home at the end of a day's foraging. It can also be called a "botanical box" or in French "une boite à herboriser". Helen Blanc-francard pointed this one out on eBay France and we snapped it up. Do you think Clarence had one like this? Let's keep our eyes open for photos of him on botanical expeditions and mentions in his correspondence.

A web search reveals one like ours,vasculum bicknell c described as follows. "English. Early 20C. Hinged lid impressed with bas relief of stable scene with horses and hunting dogs. Painted on reverse with green and gold design. L 125 inches (31.6cms) x W 4.6 inches (11.7cms) x H 3 inches (7.5cms). These were used commonly by plant collectors. The specimens collected in the wild would not be squashed until the collector is ready to arrange and ‘press’ them between newspaper to dry them prior to mounting on herbarium sheets. Many found items are in tin japanned in black and are Edwardian. Students of Botany in the UK, up until the 1960’s or so were expected to make a herbarium of pressed and dried wild plants. They would collect their specimens in a vasculum and then treat them as I indicated earlier. They were being manufactured as late as the early 60’s. Professionals and plant hunters (the latter often being country gentlemen and ladies) would do the same, but in earlier times in Africa, the Far East and elsewhere, the vasculum was the standard method of ‘preserving’ parts of plants until they could be pressed. The time difference between collection and pressing would vary between a few hours and no more than a couple of days. Thus the vasculum is only for temporary holding of plant material. In order to preserve plants to return them to Europe to grow, the usual methods would be to collect seeds, bulbs, tuber, corms or other organs that go though a cycle of growth and die-back. I doubt that the vasculum would be used for this. Paper bags would do. A risky way to ship whole plants, on the whole small ones, was to keep them in tea chests, but even then the time scale is rather short, because the plant material will rot. With one of the plants with which I have worked, a cutting in a polythene bag for 2 weeks is just about the limit. I could get the cutting to root and so establish a plant. With bulbs, corms and tubers, there is no real problem."

Wikipedia gives similar and useful information...

A vasculum or a botanical box is a stiff container used by botanists to keep field samples viable for transportation. The main purpose of the valsculum is to transport plants without crushing them and by maintaining a cool, humid environment.

Construction
Vascula are cylinders typically made from tinned and sometimes lacquered iron, though wooden examples are known. The box was carried horizontally on a strap so that plant specimens lie flat and lined with moistened cloth.[1] Traditionally, British and American vascula were somewhat flat and valise-like with a single room, while continental examples were more cylindrical and often longer, sometimes with two separate compartments.[2] Access to the interior is through one (sometimes two) large lids in the side, allowing plants to be put in and taken out without bending or distorting them unnecessarily. This is particularly important with wildflowers, that are often fragile. Some early 20th century specimen are made from sheet aluminium rather than tin, but otherwise follow the 19th century pattern. The exterior is usually left rough, or lacquered green.

History
The roots of the vasculum is lost in time, but may have evolved from the 17th century tin candle-box of similar construction. Linnaeus called it as a vasculum dilletanum, from Latin vasculum - small container and dilletanum, referring to J.J. Dillenius, Linnaeus' friend and colleague at Oxford Botanic Garden. With rise of botany as a scientific field the mid 18th century, the vasculum became an indispensable part of the botanists equipment. Together with the

screw down plant press, the vasculum was popularized in Britain by naturalist William Withering around 1770. The shortened term "vasculum" appear to have become the common name applied to them around 1830. Being a hallmark of field botany, the vascula were in common use until the 2nd World War. Another vasculumWith post-war emphasis on systematics rather than alpha taxonomy and new species often collected in far-away places, field botany and the vascula with it went into decline.Aluminium vascula are still made and in use, though zipper bags and clear plastic folders are today cheaper and more common in use.

"The newsletter of the Society of Herbarium Curators is named "The Vasculum"."

 

William Waterfield, whose celebrated garden in Menton is a wonder, wrote in response, 4th April 2016, "Dear Marcus, a vasculum as depicted was current when I was a student in the 60s."