Botanical Desecration

I don’t use the word desecration often but this piece of news warrants it.

Firstly If I may, I need to fill you in on some background and context for it to make sense for you. OK.

Herbariums all round the world hold collections of pressed dried plants as a source of information about our plant diversity. This allows new species to be correctly identified,  classifications of plants to be reviewed and much other important research.

Apart from the scientific value they also have heritage value.  Consider the plants Captain Cook collected on his voyages, the plant specimens Richard Evans Schulte’s collected in South America as part of the worlds collective botanical heritage.

Generally, species are described by taxonomists based on a type specimen and the details published in a scientifically recognised publication. The published scientific name and the official description which defines the characteristics of the species are then permanently associated with this type specimen. ( Thanks to the WA Museum website for this description).

So in order to support research and scientific collaboration Herbariums around the world swap specimens and lend material to other herbariums. This had been standard practice for hundreds of years. Nothing new here. This work goes on in the background quietly without much fuss.

Enter stage right the spectre of bureaucracy in Australia with the Department of customs and import.
In an article by Erik Stokstad on Sciencemag.org News May 11 2017 the dreadful story was outlined of valuable herbarium specimens being incinerated and destroyed due to thoughtless adherence to rules and procedures.

Early 2017 – Specimens collected by a French expedition 1791-1793 held by the French National Museum of Natural History were destroyed by biosecurity officers. Reason paper work was incomplete, a reply email to clarify from the Queensland Herbarium went astray, the declaration paperwork said low value so after 30 days into the incinerator. This included six type specimens!

But that’s not all
October 2016 Sydney Botanical specimens from New Zealand including a type specimen were destroyed. No reason has been reported.

There are investigations and half hearted qualified responses from customs but the material is gone forever.

What appals me is the lack of intelligent intervention when something goes awry or not as expected. Notice I did not say the word wrong. You can see in the incident the mentality of a right wrong punishment attitude and mentality.

  • Paper was not filled out correctly – wrong
  • Value on the customs declaration was low value for such an item – wrong
  • Thirty days had elapsed, no response – wrong.

Resulting from that is punishment – incineration destruction.

So otherwise intelligent educated human beings when placed in a bureaucratic system abrogate, relinquish, abandon any ability to resolve issues. They seemingly cannot observe, inquire, stop, think, take time to resolve an out of the ordinary matter. To exercise an individual act of leadership. What we see is people following process in a narrow bandwidth of possibility. Don’t colour outside the lines.

Here is a parcel sent between official government departments with sender and receiver details and associated paperwork, so no phone call ? to check it out?

A bureaucratic action in the worse sense of that word.  It reeks of judgement, right and wrong, absolutism, no allowance for vagaries and variance of life that needs intelligent interaction to handle.

The website  The Conversation  has an article on herbariums which has embedded the link to this story. Search for herbarium on the site and up it will come.

The header picture is from Wikipedia permission allowed for non commercial reproduction. It shows a page from an Arabic Herbal.