Paleobotanical, Pollen and Spore Collections

Harvard's paleobotanical collection was founded by Louis Agassiz. It was originally based on European collections and was a part of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. The Boston Society of Natural History donated numerous specimens in the 1890's. Shortly before 1900, the entire collection was transferred from the Museum of Comparative Zoology to the Botanical Museum. The collection has grown in both quality and quantity under two successive curators.

Lignified fruit of Nyssa

The paleobotanical collections number about 60,000 specimens; it is the second largest repository for fossil plants in the United States. The collections are without peer for completeness of stratigraphic, geographic, and taxonomic coverage. They are rich in European material not to be found elsewhere in the United States. There is an extensive collection, containing several thousand samples, of coal and related material that form part of the paleobotanical collections.

A small collection of fruits and seeds from modern plants has been developed for identification in conjunction with research on fossil seeds. In addition, there is a palynological collection, documented by herbarium specimens in the Harvard Herbaria as well as in other collections. About Lignified fruit of Nyssa 11,000 specimens of extant vascular plants are represented. This collection is especially rich in taxa from tropical America and China. Fossil pollen and spore collections are also included in the pollen collections; most notable among these are material from the Oligocene Brandon Lignite prepared by Alfred Traverse and Holocene pollen and spores from Gatun Lake, Panama, described by Alexandra Bartlett. The Precambrian material collected by Elso Barghorn and Andrew Knoll is of major importance. Andrew Knoll is responsible for the curation of the Paleobotanical Collections.

Image captions:

  • 1. Thin section of anatomically preserved Lepidodendron, an arborescent lycopod from the Pennsylvanian Period.
  • 2. Bacterial microfossils from the ca. 1.9 billion year old Gunflint Formation, Ontario.
  • 3. Lignified fruit of Nyssa (tupelo), preserved in Miocene deposits of the Brandon Lignite, Vermont.