You are here

Collections Cameo, April 2013

A Lake County Herbarium: The Elizabeth Teter Lunn historic plant collection, on loan from Lake Forest College

The Elizabeth Teter Lunn (ETL) herbarium is a collection of 5,000 pressed and mounted dried plant specimens dating from the turn of the twentieth century to present day. The collection belongs to Lake Forest College and the majority of the plants included in the herbarium are native to Lake County and the adjacent Chicago Region. Victoria Jones, a senior at Lake Forest College, has been calling attention to this resource for the past three years by displaying specimens in public art exhibitions and digitizing the collection in order to maintain and fully utilize this historic plant museum. Recently, the collection was registered to the global directory of public herbaria known as Index Herbariorum, established by The New York Botanic Garden in 1935.

In 1893, John Merle Coulter, a world-renowned botanist and editor of The Botanical Gazette, became president of Lake Forest College (then Lake Forest University) and helped to institute the college’s herbarium. Coulter’s assistant, Mogens Christian Jensen, collected 87 plants in the vicinity of the city of Lake Forest in the years 1896 and 1897 and accessioned these plants to the collection. Well-pressed and preserved in moderate conditions, Jensen’s herbarium specimens serve as priceless relics to studying the historical flora of the region at the end of the nineteenth century. Coulter and Jensen’s collaborative botanical concentration pioneered what is now known as the Elizabeth Teter Lunn herbarium.

For the next thirty years of its history, the herbarium sat unused and forgotten until rediscovered by Dr. Elizabeth Teter Lunn (pictured below), a female pioneer in the field of Biology at the college and chair of the Biology department in the 1950s. Throughout her unremitting and passionate teaching career she assiduously presided over and put together a large portion of the college’s current collection. Dr. Kenneth Weik, Professor of Biology Emeritus, worked with Elizabeth Lunn within the biological boundaries of the college. Together they contributed scores of specimens to the herbarium, teaching and training students the art and science of herbaria design. One student in particular, George La Roi, prepared an index to the herbarium as his senior thesis under Professor Lunn in 1958. La Roi also remounted many of M. C. Jensen’s earlier 1890s specimens. La Roi’s index compiling the plants native to Lake County in the 1950s has been employed by Lake Forest Open Lands in their work to determine native and introduced plants on lands under the organization’s care.

The Herbarium is currently under the stewardship of the college’s Biology and Environmental Studies Departments, with additional participation from members of the Art Department. Gerould Wilhelm, author of Plants of the Chicago Region (Swink & Wilhelm, 1994), recently annotated the entire ETL plant museum as research for his upcoming volume, Flora of the Chicago Region. Wilhelm concluded 71 specimens belonging to the ETL herbarium that have particular floristic significance to the flora of Lake County. In addition to this research, former Biology professor Linda Curtis is also using the college’s herbarium to identify and better understand the occurrence of many sedge species growing in Illinois Beach Dunes State Park. (Read her report here.) This old practice of collecting plants for a herbarium now intersects with modern technologies, making this particular collection an invaluable resource to studying the historical flora of the region.

An exhibition of specimens from the Herbarium, entitled Herbarium abstractions, will be on display at the Historical Society now through the beginning of May. Exhibition curator Victoria Jones will be available on Sundays at 2 p.m. to give tours of the exhibit. Find out more about the exhibit here.

Further resources

La Roi, George. " A Study of the Flora of Lake County," 1958 (Lake Forest College Sr. Thesis), listing the contents of the College herbarium collections from the 1890s and the 1950s.

Elizabeth Teter Lunn Herbarium listing in the Index Herbariorum, established by the New York Botanical Garden.

Photo gallery from Herbarium exhibit at the Durand Art Institute at Lake Forest College

More about the Herbarium from the Lake Forest College website