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University of Regina Review - Herbarium Named

Herbarium has a new name, The George F. Ledingham Herbarium

The University Herbarium, at first glance, is not an attractive place. Unlike its counterpart, the Campus Greenhouse, there are no teeming flora. In the rows and rows of steel cabinets, the plants have lost their greenness long ago. The plant specimens, mounted on paper-boards have been carefully pressed, dried and labeled. For example, one would hardly recognize a common prairie plant here, tagged as Mousiness divaricatum var. Hookerii.

For all its library appearance, this is essentially what a herbarium is. It indicates a record of plant life, in this case mainly of southern Saskatchewan. It is resource that is vital to taxonomists, field ecologists, those working with endangered plant species, conservationists, naturalists and environmentalists.

Image: Dr. Ledingham
As the first curator of the university herbarium, Dr. George Ledingham has no qualms about being mis-named: "I don't object to the word `caretaker' because that's what I am. We care for plants, we collect and preserve them, but we don't collect specimens unless we're sure there's enough of a population." (Photo by Shelley Sopher)

While recognizing the value of the herbarium, Dr. M.V.S.Raju and his colleagues in the biology department proposed and recommended that the herbarium be named after its founder and longtime curator Dr. Ledingham. The University Board of Governors gave its approval and now it is appropriately called The George F. Ledingham Herbarium.

Dr. L. R. Symes, the then dean of the faculty of science, remarked that "It is a testimony to George who has given so much of his time and energy". The university and the biology department are proud to have Dr. Ledingham as the first curator of the George F. Ledingham Herbarium.

At present, the George F. Ledingham is one of the two in the province (the other located at the university of Saskatchewan at Saskatoon) and is listed in the International Index Herbariorum of the world. It contains 50,000 angiosperm specimens, mostly from the province, the earliest one dating back to 1901. The herbarium has been extended by adding collections of Mr. Bernard de Vries, a Fort Qu'Appelle biologist. Efforts are also being made to add mosses and lichens to the herbarium. Both Dr. Ledingham and

Dr. Raju believe that the herbarium would be an increasingly valuable resource for future research. The herbarium will provide information about the frequently and distribution of plants, contribute to the knowledge of rare species, and also enable to evaluate changes in the flora. The plant life in Saskatchewan has changed greatly. For example, the orchid specimen collected 90 years ago near Indian Head, is no longer present. Dr. Ledingham poses the question -- "Have we exterminated it? Or some changes in the soil and/or climate killed it". What is the heritage value lost when a plant disappears?, Dr. Raju asks. One cannot estimate the cost! The herbarium functions as a barometer of the past. Biologists today continue to discover plants that were not known to have existed in Saskatchewan. Dr. Ledingham did discover Juncus compressus, a rush in the parking lot in south Regina. It is, no doubt, a small but a vital contribution to a greater understanding of our heritage.

It is rather incomplete to trace the origin and development of the Geroge F. Ledingham herbarium without mentioning briefly the life of Dr. Ledingham. As head of the biology department, Dr. Ledingham started the herbarium in 1945. His interest in the prairie plants can be traced back to his childhood. He was born and raised on a farm near a small prairie town, and developed a strong love of nature, especially the grassland prairies. After finishing his high school education, he went on to obtain Masters degree from the University of Saskatchewan and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. His love of the prairies brought him back to the prairies and began collecting plants.

Dr. Ledingham is an authority on the taxonomy of Saskatchewan grasses and sedges. He has also done considerable research on some legumes, some being prairie plants. His interest in legumes took him to many countries of the world. In fact, while traipsing in Iran's countryside, he collected a new plant which has now been identified new and named after him, Astragalus ledinghamii. For many years, Dr. Ledingham has been a strong advocate for the preservation of natural habitats, such as the natural grasslands park in southwestern Saskatchewan which, he earnestly hopes, "will be preserved as National Grasslands Park in a sea of overploughed prairies." Recognizing his sincere dedication to the concept of preservation of natural habitats, Dr. Ledingham has been honoured by the Canada Nature Federation, Saskatchewan Natural History Society, Environment Canada, and also the University of Regina, which has granted him an honorary doctoral degree.

The original article was published in University of Regina Review, February 1990. Volume 7, Number 2.
Dr. M.V.S.Raju made minor corrections for this Web version. May 1996.