The Economic Botanical Collection


So I’m standing here with Chris Niezgoda who is the collections manager of flowering plants in botany and we’re going on a tour of the economic botanical collection. – Economic botany is the use of plants by people. So whether they eat them, whether they use them medicinally, whether they make hats out of them. We have boxes, we have glass jars, we have liquids, so it’s a challenge to store them and that’s why a lot of museums and institutions don’t. As you can see when we open these drawers, these are nice, new boxes, because for many years after they were off-exhibit they were just in bottoms of cases, exhibit cases or in closets.
– Oh, wow. – Kodak boxes, old shoe boxes, which makes my heart stop because our aim is to preserve everything. – A box like this costs about $5-$10.
– Per box? For 12,000 artifacts.
– Per box. Wherea- Right. And a box like this costs under a dollar. – You have Valerian root.
– Yeah.
– Valerian root from 1907. – Yes! This is from 1907. It was used as a stimulant tonic in cases of hysteria, epilepsy, etc., etc. – Kalaa wood, and this is from Siam— Thailand. It’s said to possess property of curing snake bites, and is [used] by native jugglers as a snake charm. So, you attract the snakes, get bitten by them, and then use it to cure your snake bite, I guess.
– Well, now I know, when I’m juggling snakes… – We have collections of teas! I mean how much more botanical can you get?
– Tea! Oh! Old tea! Yeah. – This is one of my favorites, just the box.
– That’s a nice box. – This one’s from Spain, this one’s from Paraguay, another one from Paraguay…
– And these are just spices and herbs and other byproducts, and is that parsley? – From Germany. And why we have parsley from Germany, whether someone sent it to us, whether Millspaugh [first curator of botany] asked for parsley from Germany— – Who knows?
– I’m sure every jar has a story.
– Yeah. – Here’s a finished product. It’s under plastic, but isn’t that beautiful?
– Wow. Yeah, is that a rug of some sort? – It’s—yeah, it’s like a doormat—
– Yeah, yeah.
– and it’s made of pine fibers from Georgia. We have a lot of pine material from Georgia. They have lots of pines down there; it’s a big pine growing area. – Oh, neat!
– Isn’t that pretty?
– Yeah! – And these are all fibers, and this one came from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, so this is from 1904, so again, something over 100 years old but in great shape.
– Yeah, it looks—it’s beautiful. – A trunk of a date palm.
– I was looking for my date palm trunk! – Right, and here we had a Stanley Field expedition. They were in British Guiana, which is now Guyana, and brought back a date palm. – Woah. Now you know.
– ‘Cause date palms are very important in the food industry, so.. – That makes sense. What is this?
– This is the part of the palm that has the flowers initially, and fruits would be attached to it. – Okay, so it naturally looks like this?
– Yeah, so it’s the— with flowers it’s called an inflorescence. When you have fruits attached to it it’s called an infructescence. Looks like I could wear it as a hair extension.
– Yeah! We have musical instruments.
– I’ve played one of those in music class.
– Oh really? Okay. – Maybe you should come up and play. We can have a concert.
– Yeah! Let’s have a gourd concert. That’d be fun. – So these are all part of the same set. Gourds are very important in economic botany. You can see they make canisters out of them. – Hats! I love the hats!
– Here are the hats. I love the hats, too. – They’re beautiful.
– Can you see someone wearing that? – It has flowers that are carved out of plant parts. It’s gorgeous. I would wear that. I can’t even believe how they make, like, this lace out of the bark, too. – All these beautiful weaving techniques— just think, someone trying to get all of that. – Do you know what it’s made out of?
– Yeah, this is the double coconut.
– Okay. – The double coconut is…
– Yeah…
– Have you seen that? – Yeah, I have.
– We have one. – This is a model to show you what the inside of a double coconut is, but the double coconut only grows in the Seychelles islands, off of India. Now they don’t allow any exportation of it ’cause it’s been lost on some of the islands just because of overuse. And it takes a long time for these things to germinate, but…
– Yeah, I mean, that’s a huge seed. Is that a seed—considered a seed? – That’s the seed. That’s the largest seed in the world.
– Wow. Really?
– And that’s the finished— – Do you need a hand?
– This is it before it— all the fibers are taken off of it. – Wow. That is huge!
– So this is a pretty big fruit. So you can imagine how big a tree you need to have a fruit this big. – Yeah. That’s massive.
– Yeah. – Do you need a hand getting it back up there?
– Probably. – We have a magic broom. Okay? People have to come up with ways to sweep their houses, and you know, why not use something in nature? This one is from 1912. So, 100 years old.
– Wow. – This is made out of corn husks. It’s a little doll.
– It’s cute! I like how he has a mustache. – Oh, here’s the ukulele.
– Oh wow!
– Yeah, remember you were talking about your musical band? Well… – Here’s the ukulele.
– It’s beautiful.
– And it’s from koa wood, which is used for ukuleles. It’s from Hawaii, and it’s from 1928.
– Oh, it’s beautiful. And shoes!
– And shoes! The shoes, um… – Botanical shoes! Wow.
– Botanical shoes. You can imagine… – Sandals!
– …sandals that look very much like sandals that are worn today. Let me just take the…
– They don’t have a lot of arch support, but, you know. – No, but, you know, you’re walking around, you need something to protect your feet, and these were from… Venezuela.
– A palm. – Oh, and these are some of my favorite things, just because they’re so beautiful. These are wooden shoe forms. – Oh! Wow.
– Look at that. Isn’t that gorgeous? They would use forms like this to shape the leather and make shoes. Here we have arrows with points made of a legume wood. This is from the New Hebrides [modern day Vanuatu], 1906. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be shot by one of these. – Wow!
– Isn’t this beautiful?
– Yeah, what is that? – This is just a resin that they’ve shaped into a spiral form, you know, similar— you could think of it as a snail or some kind of invertebrate. – Wow, fossil gum…
– Yeah, again, 100 years old. – Wow, it’s beautiful.
– This is from north Guinea, in Africa. Isn’t that gorgeous?
– Yeah, it’s beautiful. – Same type of resin, but now fashioned into…
– …a little sculpture. Wow.
– A little sculpture. From New Zealand. – What can you learn from a resin?
– Well resins are used in paints and varnishes, and decorative objects of fossilized resin—amber jewelry. – So then if you had this collection you’d be able to maybe take some information from it, take a sample, and then be able to… – …see the chemical composition and see why this Trachelobium is different from a Hymenea which is different from a resin that would come from, like the Myrtaceae family, see what compositions they have. – Oh, there are the tools—the rubber-tapping tools. So you can see that they would score the tree with this instrument and then… there were these little tin cups that they would collect the rubber in.
– Oh, okay. – And here we have the bark. You can see how they scored the bark for the rubber to run, for the sap to run, and then collect it. – Little bundle of rubber here. There you go.
– There you go. There you have it. – Down here is our— we try to keep all the liquids together.
– Yeah, wow. – But this is a… great collection.
– This is an interesting collection. – We try—obviously on these—to keep everything in the original containers. They have to remain upright because we don’t want it really… – We don’t want them leaking!
– …leaking, and we don’t want to…
– We don’t want them to evaporate. – …replace the corks or evapora— I mean, it is gonna evaporate ’cause cork is porous, but we try the best way possible to keep them upright so we designed these little trays. More things in bigger jars. We have lots of olive oils: 1893, Spain- We’ve got olives, we want to sell olives. – But you are slowly losing all of the liquid. Is there anything to do to stop that, or what are you gonna do in another hundred years when it’s all gone? – Somebody else’s problem in a hundred years.
– You’ll be retired by then.
– I’ll be retired by then, yes, yes. – You can do everything, literally everything that you can possibly think of to preserve these collections and yet you can’t stop something from evaporating.
– Right. – So somebody at home should invent a way to prevent these liquids from evaporating. That’s your homework.

100 thoughts on “The Economic Botanical Collection

  1. What an interesting field! I am curious to know how economic botany collections and studies will evolve in a hundred more years or so as our society uses plants in drastically different ways than the practical tools and clothes etc shown here. 

  2. Rubber cap over the cork to fit the neck of the bottle, i can sell you this about 500 dollars each not problem , nice video very informative !

  3. You could throw a wax seal on all those corks and that should help stop the evaporation. I don't know all the specifics but if you looked into wine storage there is bound to be good stuff there.

  4. spray the cork and part of the bottle's neck with plastic, and a thick enough layer to not let any molecules through. some plastics allow air to get through, so the selection of plastic would have to be sprayable, and isolating enough.
    plastic that isnt biodegradable will remain in tact as long as the bottle will be of use. 

  5. One thing that strikes me, is that collecting for this section is probably very difficult. There is so much to collect, and so little space, since its a very wide category…

  6. I would love to examine that old tea collection, I love tea and that's just so awesome that the Field Museum has this. (I don't usually get excited by plants, but this was awesome, as well as all the different things made by plants that we just don't think of in everyday life.) I love how well they were kept as well, so awesome. (and yay Ukelele)

  7. I really like everything you do here on this channel, but I think there is room for improvement regarding the way the filming itself is done. It is really hard to follow when the objects filmed are out of focus and everything is shaking. I know that it is hard work and also depends on good equipment and how much training the person behind the  camera has. I dont mean to offend you, but I think it might be a good thing to work on that. I will continue watching your stuff anyways, because your work in general is great!

  8. Love it! Thank you!! btw a nice criticism: have you considered doing a manual white balance on your camera (assuming you're shooting on a dslr)? it would help remove the weird orangey colour cast in the video when shooting inside the storeroom :] it takes almost no time to do and i feel it would improve the video quality. thanks again for creating such a fantastic show! i watch all your vids!

  9. why not melt the glass jars shut? You would have to break them to use it, but they would evaporate slower I suspect.

  10. how about sealing the jars with low heat-shrink plastic film(like shrink wrap). either just the top or the whole bottle. I assume they dont sample the stuff pretty often soo you just have to cut it open when the time comes and seal it again after! 🙂

  11. I used to work at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian), in the Botany Department. We had a double coconut that was used a lot during behind the scenes tours. It was affectionately called "the butt nut."

  12. I got maybe three seconds in before I had to ask this. How the heck tall are you. Are you like way above average tall or is that women fairly short. I'm used to you sitting down or having so many distracting things around you that I never noticed how somewhat unusually tall you are.

  13. Maybe a vacuum-sealed wrapper, like what they use to wrap around things we consume today (like salad dressing). Then, if necessary, the plastic could be peeled off, and another piece sealed on later.

  14. How about a wax layer over most of the cork. This would leave the possibility of the sample being tested as the actual seal would be left unwaxed, however reducing the (surface?) area in which the liquids would evaporate. Not a solution but it could delay the whole process somewhat.

  15. Is it bad that I want to eat the olive oil? Just, y'know, cook up some bread and dip it… I bet 200 year old olive oil is delicious!

  16. I really find these videos amazing. Not only do viewers get to see the happenings at the museum, but also get to learn about more obscure topics. Every child I knew growing up wanted to be a marine biologist, but after this video I could imagine a kid going up to his mom and saying, "I want to be an economic botanist!" (Side note, I would love to see the parents reaction, wouldn't you?) I also find the people here are awesome. Where else on the internet do you find complete strangers discussing the various ways to preserve botany samples with chemical, and biological knowhow.

  17. there is a material used to coat and preserve decommissioned aircraft and on cars. I know its adherent and extremely stretchy! It could probably be formed around the bottle tops and down the neck a little way and would be easy enough to reseal. Think shrink wrap with glue

  18. Parafilm! That's your answer. Chemists use it all the time on flasks. Mostly to keep moisture out. It's basically just a plastic film that molds tightly to the applied surface while only being mildly adhesive. Look it up.

  19. Has there been thought about creating a smaller sample of the liquids in air tight vials to be cirtain that there will be a sample available for future generations.

  20. Oh that was all so cool 😀
    Homework: Could they maybe seal over the top of the cork with a resin or other sealant to stop the evaporation? Or would that effect the contents/do they need to breath? I'm very interested to know!

  21. There is a noble gas gun used for wines at our shop that uses argon to keep wines fresh (its like a needle that goes through cork, removes wine and replaces it with argaon gas) I believe its called a Coravin Gun. Its like 400.00. If you injected the gas into the containers there would be less reaction as it is a "noble" gas. Just not sure how often you would have to replace the argon in the jars (as I am sure it will leak out at some point) Our wines are kept "unopen" for up to a month with this method. The company claims it will keep wine fresh for up to three months… but seriously if we cant sell 4 gasses of wine in a month… something's wrong. Just a thought, on the museum scale $ may not make it feasible…

  22. about the shoe part, in the Netherlands we have wooden shoes just carved logs we where and they have forms

  23. This has got to be one of the most fascinating things I've seen in a while. And coming in, I didn't think it would be.

  24. This. Is. So. COOL. I flipping love plants, and I'd never even heard of economic botany before this! It's too bad most people never even get to see this collection – but I'm glad this video is doing something to try to offset that. The conversation in the comments – and especially the one about conservation techniques – is also really cool. Is this sort of collection open to the public? If I'm ever able to make it to Chicago I would love to stare at it with my face.

  25. Perhaps the liquids should be absorbed into some powdery medium or freeze dried to remove the moisture and preserve the oils which can be later reconstituted for future generations. Or store them in vacuum sealed ampules the way they do with extremely volatile substances in chemistry.

  26. I immediately knew that figure was from New Zealand c:
    Eh, it's weird how humans have evolved since then.
    😀

  27. for half a second i was like "a ukulele made out of plants? awesome!"
    realising, that wood is from a plant i felt quite stupid^^

  28. please stop the slow vilitization. Idea 1, place all original containers into newer designed airtight container. Proof. more stable inviirinment. 2, all into ca
    Intro criogenic chamber, or at least whole collection into one airtight container. Homework. no just thinking. Thanks for the opportunity

  29. a silicone cover cap. easily removable and replaceable if it becomes damaged and it will form a water-tight and air-tight seal. it will become brittle over time so just change it before it gets too bad.

  30. Thats is the most cute little woman I have seen for a damm long time ! i think she mostly is made of tea and warm pillows !

  31. I love how Emily is always so excited for everything, from cutting up an ant eater to musical gourds and coconut hats she always seems so amazed like she's loving every moment of what she's doing. I hope one day I have a job that I love as much as that!

  32. Parafilm stretch-wrapped around the cork and bottle lip. Ask one of your DNA labs for a couple of inches so you can try it out.

  33. I would not have guessed that she was so tall until this episode. I would have guessed about 5'6" at the most before. In regards to the presentation issue, encapsulating and glass for liquids? shrink wrap machine purchase and do it in house to keep costs low. maybe? just thoughts. as long as you don't need to access the contents glass seems like a pretty good choice. and what about silicone as opposed to wax? unless the contents are silicone, my understanding is that silicone does not bond with other things easily. I'm no problem on this but I like to brainstorm ideas that might help. If they didn't help, then you're better off having eliminated these ideas. … 1000 ways not to make a light bulb right?

  34. It's an old video so hopefully some one can see this, a coat of lacquer or enamel over the cork would stop the evaporation, covering the cork just to the edges so that if a sample needs to be taken it's as simple as taking the top off and putting it back on tight

  35. I like when you have guests from museums. It's so cool and amazing to see people be super enthusiastic about one specific area. Like that one old guy with gemstones and this cute lady with plant stuff. Love it 😭

  36. 3 years late…… but ive recently preserved a few insects in candle jars, they have a silicon(?) seal on lid and seem fairly airtight havent had any evaporation over a number of months compared to the small glass vials with cork lids that have vespid specimens, and quickly dry out

  37. very informative video , wow Christine is really knowledgeable ❤ it's so fascinating to learn about these topics and see the passion people have as they explain. It's so lovely to see how enjoyable it was for her to be interviewed and it is actually very interesting information! Thank you for this video Emily! you're also a great interviewer 😄

  38. Hey thebrainscoop, can you explain the difference between Ethnobotany and Economic botany? I can't seem to find a cleaner answer.

  39. To prevent the evaporating how about dripping wax on top of the cork top to seal it? Only on the cork and top of the glass area.

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