Wilton Herbarium — Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road Wilton, CT 06897 Tel: 203-762-3950

Wilton Herbarium

Wilton Herbarium

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Wilton Garden Club

The Marybeth Wheeler Herbarium
at the Wilton Library

In 1982, the Library acquired a unique reference when the Wilton Garden Club donated its herbarium collection, which can be described as a botanist’s library.  Begun in the early 1960s as an educational project of the Garden Club’s Conservation Committee, the herbarium houses hundreds of specimens of native flora, meticulously pressed, mounted, and systematically arranged for study.  The collection itself continues to be maintained and augmented by the Garden Club.  This unusual resource is appreciated by the Library both as a research tool and as a priceless record of the botanical history of Wilton.  It is currently located in the Library’s Wilton History Room.

The values of a herbarium are many:

  • Authenticated herbarium material provides the information for the legal protection of rare, endangered, or unusual species throughout the state.
  • Species identification is particularly useful in determining wetlands and their boundaries.  The herbarium is available and accessible to local advisors and land use planners.
  • The herbarium is available to the public.  It is helpful to landowners who wish to verify the identity of plants growing on their property.
  • Students, teachers, and researchers can study confusing species within the same genus, placing them side by side for comparative analysis.  Flowers or fruits can be closely studied at any time of the year.  Details can be studied with a hand lens.
  • A herbarium has significant historic value because it records the natural flora of a particular site at a specific time, truly preserving yesterday for today and today for tomorrow.
  • Identifying micro climates and helping in studying how global warming may be changing habitats.

In 2012, the Garden Club named the herbarium collection The Marybeth Wheeler Herbarium to honor the remarkable woman who initiated the project.  She energetically led the many Club members who worked on the project, guiding and maintaining high standards for over twenty years.  Members collected about 550 native and naturalized plants found in Wilton and several hundred additional plants representative of Connecticut.  The Club also cares for two hundred historical sheets prepared by Anna Carpenter in the early 1900s which are part of the collection.

As a complimentary project, the Wilton Garden Club published an award-winning book titled The Ferns and Flowering Plants of Wilton in 1992.  It is an account of plants growing in our town and the recorded history of their presence.  The essays, botanical drawings, maps, and checklist of almost one thousand plant species should be of interest to gardeners, horticulturists, conservationists, and botanists.  It is available at the Wilton Library.

Herbarium materials
are housed in the
Wilton History Room
and are available during regular
Library hours from the
Reference Desk.
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Monday, Friday 10-6
Tuesday – Thursday 10-7
Saturday 10-5
Sunday (September-May) 1-5

The Garden Club’s story of Anna Carpenter, a noted botanist and teacher who “motivated and inspired many to learn, discover, and understand the ferns and flowering plants of Wilton” is particularly interesting, as is their description of the Herbarium.

 


The Story of Anna Carpenter
1833-1933

Once upon a time… about a hundred years ago, a teacher and amateur botanist by the name of Anna Elizabeth Carpenter described and recorded the ferns and flowering plants of Wilton.

Miss Carpenter was born in 1833 and lived the early part of her life in Darien, Connecticut. She was graduated from the first class at the New Britain Normal School and later taught in Connecticut and New York.

Around 1892 she moved to Wilton and opened a small private primary school in her home on Cottage Row, located across from the present Wilton Library. Because of her interest in education and learning, she became one of the founding members of the Wilton Library in 1895. Miss Carpenter was an officer of the Wilton Library Association from 1895-1918, first as vice president and later as secretary. Upon her retirement, she was granted life membership with the gratitude of the Executive Committee.

Although trained to be a teacher, her lifelong interest was in botany. Anna began collecting plant specimens which she carefully documented and pressed onto herbarium sheets. At the age of nineteen she contributed her first specimen to the herbarium at Yale University. For many years she exchanged botanical information with members of the Society for the Preservation of Wildflowers.

Rural Wilton provided numerous ferns and flowering plants for Anna to add to her impressive herbarium collection; it eventually numbered over one thousand specimen sheets. In 1921 Miss Carpenter donated her herbarium of the wild plants of Wilton consisting of over two hundred sheets to the Wilton Library. The remainder was given to the Connecticut Botanical Society Herbarium located at the Peabody Museum in New Haven. A card file of Wilton Plants observed and identified by Miss Carpenter is located in the Wilton History Room in the Library.

Throughout her life she was an inspiration to many aspiring naturalists. “Auntie” Carpenter was well known by the children in town whom she taught to identify and appreciate Wilton’s native plants. Despite failing eyesight, Anna Carpenter continued to search for wild flowers until she was in her middle nineties. A resident of Wilton for forty-one years, she died a few months before her 100th birthday. A woman of many talents and interests, she holds a unique place in the history of the Wilton community.

Some thirty years ago, the conservation committee of the Wilton Garden Club focused its attention and efforts on creating a herbarium of its own. A herbarium, sometimes called “the botanist’s or gardener’s library.” can be better than pictures. It serves as a factual record of flora, past and present.

The Garden Club first exhibited its collection of 100 sheets of pressed plant specimens in 1965. Today the collection numbers over 600 sheets, representing Wilton and Fairfield County, and continues to serve as a reference guide to plant identification and is used to educate its members and others. To increase its availability, the Herbarium was given to the Wilton Library by the Wilton Garden Club, following a precedent set by Anna Carpenter years before.

The Wilton Garden Club owes a fundamental debt to Wilton botanist Anna Carpenter, whose list of Wilton plants provides a rich source of information and was one of the resources used for the club’s book, Ferns & Flowering Plants of Wilton. Through her records in preserving yesterday for today, Anna Carpenter afforded an inspiration to the Wilton Garden Club to continue a project she began.

Preserving Today for Tomorrow

The diversity of our native flora reflects the health of our ecological community with its varied habitats.  This diversity is verified through the use of a herbarium.

What is a herbarium?
A herbarium is a collection of dried and pressed plant specimens mounted for permanent preservation and systematically arranged for study.

What conservation issues should be considered when collecting for a herbarium?
Legally protected species should not be collected from the wild.
Connecticut law in 1989 defined legally protected plants as:

  • “rare and endangered” – five or less occurrences in the state;
  • “threatened” – no more than nine occurrences in the state;
  • “species of special concern” – such low levels of occurrence as to be near extinction.

Species not legally protected, but in danger of declining, are collected for herbaria if:

  1. their roots are left for future growth
  2. they were collected when the species was growing in abundance
  3. they were donated by a property owner
  4. they were rescued because loss of habitat was imminent due to land development

No one should collect legally protected plants. They should be allowed to grow where they are for botanical study and enjoyment of all!