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Xylarium (FHOw)

FHOw from its foundation to the present day

In 1924, C. C. Forsaith (on secondment from Syracuse University, USA) established the Oxford Forestry Institute Xylarium (FHOw). With the return of Forsaith to the USA, Dr. L. Chalk assumed responsibility for the collection. Chalk remained in charge of the xylarium until the 30th June 1963, when responsibility for the collection transferred to Mr. J. H. Hughes. In 1976, Prof. J. Burley assumed responsibility for the collection, and was succeeded in 1999 by Dr S. Harris.

Large wood blocks are arranged alphabetically by family, genus and species on wooden rolling stacks in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, and smaller blocks are arranged in numbered wooden boxes. Microscope slides are maintained vertically in aluminium slide holders in steel filing cabinets. Two sets of slides are maintained where possible; one is arranged taxonomically and the other is arranged numerically, according to its FHOw accession number. When a wood block is added to the collection it is given an FHOw accession number, which is stamped onto it using metal dies. The largest number in the series is 25,006, which should correspond to the number of wood blocks within the collection. Sets of duplicate slides and wood blocks are also associated with the collection. Where herbarium specimens exist for FHOw accessions, they are found in diverse locations, e.g. FHO, K, F and US.

The collection is catalogued manually on 12.7 cm x 7.6 cm record cards, of three different colours, although a complete electronic database of all card data has been created. Pink cards appear to be used for specimens for which there are associated herbarium specimens, blue cards indicate specimens for which there are microscope slides only and white cards are used for all other specimens. Record cards are prepared in duplicate; one card is added to a taxonomic catalogue and the other is added to a geographical catalogue. A separate catalogue is also maintained for the running total of FHOw accession numbers.

FHOw contains a mixture of scientifically important and historically interesting materials. For example, scientifically important collections include those of Vigne (Ghana), Anderson (Sarawak), Breteler (Cameroon, Venezuela), Brown (Borneo), Cooper (Liberia), Cooper & Slater (Panama), Cuatrecasas (Columbia) and Krukoff (Brazil, Sumatra). Historically interesting collections include those made by Gamble (India) and Molfino (Argentina, a collection presented to FHOw in 1935 by HRH the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII) and individual items collected by Erasmus Darwin (FHOw 12208, Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D. Webb, collected in 1832 in Cambridge) and Richard Spruce (FHOw 3339, Mimusops sp., collected in 1849 in Brazil). As a result of its history, the bias of FHOw is towards economically important timbers, and only limited geographical and ecological data are often associated with these accessions.

Xylaria in relation to FHOw

Xylaria may be compared using many different criteria (e.g. number of accessions, geographical coverage, date of establishment), although the scientific value of a particular collection is determined by the amount of associated documentation. A feature of older collections is the relative poverty of documentation associated with accessions, for example it is unusual to find ecological information associated with herbaria collections made before 1900. Stern (1988; Index Xylariorum: Institutional wood collections of the world. International Association of Wood Anatomists, Lieden) recognised nine xylaria in the United Kingdom, from a total of 134 worldwide. Of the approximately 1,090,000 specimens in the world’s xylaria, 123,000 (11.3%) of these specimens are within UK-based xylaria. Unfortunately, UK xylaria have a relative small proportion of their collections supported by herbarium vouchers; FHOw and PRLw are unusual in having more than 10% of the collection supported by herbarium vouchers. FHOw is the 13th largest (the largest is the US Forest Products Laboratory with 98,635 accessions) and 33rd oldest (the oldest is Leningrad, founded in 1823) xylarium in the world.

Contents of FHOw

The whole of the FHOw card index has recently been input into a computer database that currently comprises 29,953 entries. Once all information on the cards had been entered the records were standardised, as far as possible, and the input checked for typographical errors. 73.6% of the entries have been checked against the recent taxonomic literature, and the names corrected to current usage. One of the idiosyncrasies of the manner in which FHOw is arranged is that some families have been split into different parts of the collection, e.g. the Sterculiaceae as it is recognised today is split between the families Buettneriaceae and Sterculiaceae. Furthermore, accessions from the same species may be split among different families, e.g. Ptaeroxylon obliquum (Thunb.) Radlk. is split between the families Meliaceae, Rutaceae and Ptaeroxylaceae. However, the collection is still subject to the problems of synonym and misidentification. In 56% of the cases it is likely that such errors will not be detected, since no herbarium material appears to be available.

FHOw contains 24,343 wood blocks and 13,100 microscope slides; 7,673 (31.5%) wood blocks have associated microscope slides. 1,635 (5.5%) accessions in the database are from gymnosperms, and the remainder from non-gymnosperms (including palms and tree ferns). 10,678 species, 2,719 genera and 239 families are represented in FHOw, although this does not take into account synonym and misidentification. 51 accessions in FHOw are identified as associated with type material.

Based on geographical regions, 22.1% of the collection is from Malaysia, 20.8% from tropical Africa and 11.9% from South America. 200 countries are represented in the entire database, with 47.3% of accessions coming from the 10 most well represented countries.

765 collectors have contributed to FHOw. 25.5% of the accessions have no collector associated with them, whilst 348 (45.5%) collectors have contributed only one accession. The most prolific individual collectors are Krukoff, Gamble, Vigne, Breteler, Molfino, Cuatrecasas, Cooper, Stern & Brizicky and Anderson, whilst Forest Departments from former British Colonies have contributed 7502 accessions (25.1%).

59.7% of accessions to FHOw were made during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, with a drastic decline in the 1960s and 1970s.

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