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History of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada National Collection of Vascular Plants

In 1886, James Fletcher donated his personal reference collection of 3,000 dried plants to Canada's Department of Agriculture which used the collection to identify plants and to provide information. This was the start of the vascular plant herbarium which was given the acronym "DAO", for Department of Agriculture, Ottawa (Holmgren and Holmgren, 2001).

By the late 1940s, the collection included about 100,000 specimens and began to grow rapidly with Harold Senn as curator, and in connection with work aimed at the botanical inventory of vast regions of Canada including the far north and Canadian National Parks.

Between 1950 and 1986 Bill (W.J.) Cody served as curator during a period of exceptional growth, and he continued to serve the collection after retirement by completing the type specimens catalogue and many other tasks.

The collection continues to grow at an approximate rate of 4,000 specimens per year. In 1986 a compactor system was installed to help conserve space and reduce costs. At the time, it was a model system and one of the first in Canada. In 1992, climate control was installed to maintain temperatures between 16° and 18°C and humidity at 35% to 55%. These 2 important factors will prevent fungus growth and will prevent insect pests from consuming preserved plant material. This avoids the health hazards of periodic fumigations with poisonous chemicals. The herbarium was one of the first in Canada to adopt a climate control system to protect specimens and ensure safety of staff by making chemical fumigations unnecessary.

In 2005, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) acquired from the Eastern Ontario Biodiversity Museum a valuable tool for plant biodiversity research; the dried plant collection of the Carleton University herbarium (CCO). This collection includes thousands of authoritatively-identified reference specimens of economically important plants.

In February 2006, the DAO received the valuable Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) seed collection containing over 19,853 samples. This collection is kept separate, but is also part of the AAFC National Collection of Vascular Plants. It is an important tool for the National Plant Identification Service, especially for determining regulated species.

In November 2006, the reference collection of the Macnamara Botany Club was donated to the collection. It was used for teaching by well-known field biologist and writer Mr. Michael Runtz and included 2,000 plants.

In 2007, a well-known Canadian botanist, Robert Hainault, donated his valuable plant collection to AAFC. It included 9,000 plants and many valuable vouchers for published studies of the flora of eastern Ontario and the Canadian Arctic.

For more information on the AAFC National Collection of Vascular Plants the following references are available:

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