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Mason receives plant specimens from unique Shenandoah Valley wetland

August 16, 2017   /   by John Hollis

Researchers and students hold pressed and mounted plant specimens

Shenandoah University professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Woody Bousquet (left), Andrea Weeks, and two former Shenandoah undergrads show some of the plant specimens donated to Mason. Photo provided.

George Mason University has been tapped to house more than 300 pressed and mounted plant specimens from a unique wetland in the Shenandoah Valley, including 20 species and two habitat types listed as rare in Virginia.

The plants, which will be archived in Ted R. Bradley Herbarium for future researchers, were a gift from Shenandoah University researchers and a Virginia ecologist. In doing so, they are helping Mason continue to engage the next generation of botanists and champion the stewardship of Virginia’s plant diversity through hands-on education, collections-based research and public outreach.

“It definitely augments our collection and increases the depth of our collection and its focus on Northern Virginia,” said Andrea Weeks, an associate professor within Mason’s Department of Biology and the director of the Bradley Herbarium. “Getting these types of gifts is how our collection grows and gets stronger.”

The plants hail from the Abrams Creek Wetlands that consists of roughly 60 acres of marshes and swamps. The two rare habitats are classified as calcareous wet prairies and calcareous muck fens. The term calcareous pertains to the limestone bedrock, while muck fens are typically less acidic than most wetlands and higher in soil nutrients.

Assisted by undergraduate students, Shenandoah University professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Woodward Bousquet and Virginia Natural Heritage Program Vegetation Ecologist Gary Fleming surveyed each section of the wetlands over a three-month period before revealing a total of 304 plant species. To validate their findings, the research team collected two samples of each species, pressed and dried them and mounted the plants on acid-free paper with scientific labels. One set of specimens remains at Shenandoah University, while the second set was formally presented to Mason officials on July 7.

“This gift is a really special one,” Weeks said.

No other limestone-based wetland in the state has as many rare plants as the Abrams Creek Wetlands, according to Bousquet and Fleming.