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As It Was: SOU Herbarium Rediscovers Donated Plant Collection

The Southern Oregon University Herbarium was long neglected when botanist Frank Callahan offered in 2012 to clean and organize its collection of nearly 24,000 specimens.

Callahan estimates the herbarium, the second largest in Oregon, had a 20-year backlog when his team began identifying, mounting, labeling and cataloging each specimen.

The team found an especially outstanding assortment of mounted plants kept in thick, black, three-ring binders in a storage locker. The collector was unidentified.

With the help of Grants Pass wildlife biologist Lee Webb, Callahan traced the dried and pressed plants to amateur naturalist Ireta Kirhofer. After her death in 1985, Kirhofer’s family had donated some 1,000 of her pressed plants to the herbarium.

Callahan says it is a superb collection gathered mostly in Josephine County between 1950 and 1980. It includes one of the largest collections of introduced weeds in the Grants Pass area, and two new “range extensions” not recorded previously in Oregon – a tidy tips flower found near Mount Sexton in Josephine County and a California flannelbush shrub from Sams Valley in Jackson County.

The herbarium is creating a computer-accessible database of its specimens, including the Kirhofer collection.

Source: Alaks, Kathleen. "Decades-old plant collection rediscovered." Grants Pass (Ore.) Courier, republished in Mail-Tribune (Medford, Ore.) 16 Mar. 2014. Print.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.