200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 198: “A Little Bit of Taiwan in Philly ”

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McHenry Award recipient Ching-Wen Tang next to her microscope
McHenry Fellow Ching-Wen Tan at work in the Academy's Botany Department.

A Little Bit of Taiwan in Philly

It’s no secret that the Academy’s Philadelphia Herbarium has an impressive collection. Its international renown was recently highlighted by an ongoing collaboration with Taiwanese scientists. The Academy’s herbarium houses a collection of Taiwanese plants that has its origins in the herbarium of University of Pennsylvania botany professor Dr. Hui-Lin Li (1911–2002). It arrived at the Academy along with the rest of the UPenn collection in 1974. Academy botanists knew the herbarium housed the Taiwanese collection, but its importance was not sufficiently appreciated until contact came from Taiwanese botanists regarding their National Digital Archive, an online database of the country’s heritage, including its biodiversity.

Though Taiwan’s diverse flora is among the best studied in Asia, specimens in Taiwanese herbaria that were collected during the Japanese colonial period (1895–1945) and soon after World War II are often in poor condition as a result of Taiwan’s semi-tropical conditions. Consequently, specimens sent to foreign institutions have become increasingly important for scholars of the Taiwanese flora. After a survey in 2008 of the Philadelphia Herbarium carried out by Dr. Kuo-Fang Chung, co-director of “Digitization of Historic Museum Collections of Taiwan Deposited in Foreign Countries” at National Taiwan University, a Taiwanese team led by Dr. Guo-Zhang M. Song came to Philadelphia in 2010 to image the Academy’s collection. This collection contains about 6,250 Taiwanese plant specimens representing 159 of Taiwan’s 235 vascular plant families.

In 2011, Botany Collection Manager Alina Freire-Fierro and Assistant Curator of Botany Dr. Tatyana Livshultz traveled to Taiwan. Though parts of the trip were administrative, Freire-Fierro traveled around the island and collected species representative of the Taiwanese flora, including specimens for her current research. Livshultz traveled to southern Taiwan to conduct pollination studies. Information from the images of Philadelphia Herbarium specimens was databased in Taiwan, and the data and images are now available online. Back at the Academy, the Botany Department recently hosted a visiting McHenry Fellow, Ching-Wen Tan, from Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University, who is continuing pollination studies with Livshultz.

Learn more about holdings of the Philadelphia Herbarium.

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