Rewilding specimens

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Portrait Lindley

In 1758 Carolus Linnaeus published his work Systema Naturae. Ever since, species are described for Western science by taxonomists based on a type specimen. The published scientific name and the official description of the species are then permanently associated with this type specimen. Type specimens are kept as dead material on herbarium sheets in collections worldwide, where they can be accessed by other scientists.

The herbarium of the Botanical Garden of Meise is the 15th biggest herbarium in the world. The collection counts more than 4 million specimens, and 85% of all known plants in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. The herbarium houses more than 53000 type specimens. More than 9500 of these type specimens were collected during the Belgian colonial period in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi. Only 60 of these type specimens were described by women.

A lot of taxonomists never left there desks, like Emile De Wildeman, who was the director of the Botanical Garden of Meise from 1912 till 1931. Yet he renamed more than 3600 specimens. The third part of the ‘official’ Latin name is the abbreviation of the taxonomist’s name.

In the window of Constant you encounter a few taxonomists who renamed plants collected between 1885 and 1960 in Belgian Congo. For this occasion the virtual spirits of the type specimens who once lived a flourishing life in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, left the herbarium to rename the taxonomists and rewild their portraits.

Opening: Thursday 30 June, 18h, Constant, rue du Fort straat 5, 1060 Brussels

Workshop: Friday 9 September 22, 10h-18h, Constant, rue du Fort straat 5, 1060 Brussels

Trees: all type specimens in Botanical Collections Belgium, collected between 1885 and 1960 in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.
Algorithms: Python, selenium, open cv; code: https://gitlab.constantvzw.org/anais_berck/rewilding-specimens
Humans: Brendan Howell, An Mertens