University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Wisconsin academy review (Dec. 1989)

Previous Previous section

Next section Next



  [p. 34]  

Milwaukee Public Museum: A Century of Wisconsin Botany

A black and white illustration of a large building in a commercial area surrounded by urban landscape.

By definition a museum is a place of collections, and plant collections are traditionally kept by botanists in herbaria (singular herbarium). But the raison d’etre for any museum is to build program around these holdings, to develop not just a repository of inanimate objects but a positive learning experience for visitors. Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) has always been this way, and its trend-setting exhibits are known nationwide and internationally. Yet its collections and its educational, public service, and research activities are equal to peer establishments worldwide. MPM resides amid the country’s twenty-fifth largest metropolis but is the sixth largest institution of its kind in the United States. Its significance as a national resource and treasury thus far exceeds the confines of current ownership—Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and attests to its early (1972) accreditation by the American Association of Museums. Appropriate expertise and productivity is found among all of its scientific disciplines: anthropology, history, geology, invertebrate and vertebrate zoologies, and botany.


The MPM herbarium began with a single donation of 5,190 botanical specimens received by the City of Milwaukee from the Wisconsin Natural History Society (WNHS) in 1883. The society was organized in 1857 as Der Naturhistorische Verein für Wisconsin by Peter Engelmann, founding principal of Milwaukee’s German-English Academy. Although WNHS was dissolved in 1915, many of the society’s members continued to donate plant materials to the museum. Early Milwaukee and Wisconsin collections of Engelmann and Increase A. Lapham were initially expanded by the late 1800’s activities of Fr. Theodore Bruhin and naturalist Thure Kumlien. In the first quarter of the I 900s local businessman Adolph Meinecke and attorney Charles E. Monroe added over 15,000 midwestern specimens. (Monroe personally gathered more than 5,000 asters over a ten-year period.) Herman E. Hayward then gave his Black Hills’ materials from South Dakota, and by the 1930s the herbarium holdings finally became international in scope. Dr. Samuel A. Barrett (MPM’s fifth director, 1921-40) and staff associate George L. Waite collected materials from Africa. Plants from Mexico and the southwestern United States were donated by Marjorie Clary, Hugh Cutler, Susan Hutchinson, and C. A. Purpus.

Other museum personnel added to the herbarium, and Henry L. Ward (MPM’s fourth director, 1902-20), although not trained in the field, had appointed himself its curator. But botany was not yet a separate section, being ignominiously placed under the care of invertebrate zoology. The first published account of MPM plant holdings, written by Ernest Bruncken in the 1902 Bulletin of   [p. 35]   the Wisconsin Natural History Society, reported 10,000 specimens. The majority were gathered in Milwaukee County, with smaller numbers from elsewhere in the United States and central Europe. Aside from the dominant flowering plants and ferns, there was an assortment of European mosses, and a growing collection of local fungi started in 1901.

The earliest qualified staff botanist was John R. Heddle (B.A. plant ecology, University of Wisconsin, 1910). From 1912-16 he collected plants and compiled an index to regional collectors and localities based on label data in the herbarium. Following Heddle, Charles Goessl collected widely throughout the state in the summers of 1915-17; from Sheboygan, he had actively sought plants throughout the region since 1901. In 1917 a botany division was finally created, and Huron Smith was appointed the first curator. His studies of Wisconsin’s Indians and tribal plant uses resulted in over 1,700 significant collections. But an early death in 1933 at an Illinois railroad crossing tragically cut short his work. Specimens gathered by Smith are now housed separately in the museum’s Huron H. Smith Ethnobotanical Collection. There is much current interest in these holdings, as well as in Smith’s manuscripts and publications.

In 1933 Albert Fuller became MPM’s second curator of botany. He had joined the museum in 1923 as an assistant curator of botany and remained as section head until his retirement in 1964 (dying finally in 1981 after prolonged illness). Fuller was a dean of Wisconsin plant preservation and founding member of the state’s conservation commission. He studied and published on Wisconsin’s orchids and the blackberries of eastern North America. His Rubus materials now comprise more than 5,000 sheets and form a special collection within the museum’s Albert M. Fuller Phanerogamic Herbarium. Emil Kruschke, hired as assistant curator of botany in 1938,

A black and white photograph of a man sitting at a table looking at materials.

Huron H. Smith became the division of botony’s first official curator when it was created at MPM in 1917. Here he is shown sorting ethnobotanical materials in 1925.

A black and white profile photograph of a man in a suit wearing glasses.

Albert M. Fuller, MPM’s second curator of botany (shown here in 1950), became both acting and assistant museum director for short periods before his retirement in 1964.

A black and white profile photograph of a man in a suit wearing glasses.

Emil P. Kruschke, MPM’s third curator of botany (shown here in 1971), died shortly after his 1974 retirement following thirty-five years of museum employment.

  [p. 36]   became section head on Fuller’s retirement. Kruschke specialized in the flora of Wisconsin, especially the borage family (Boraginaceae) and the state’s hawthorn shrubs and trees. In 1962 he described an active herbarium of some 110,000 specimens (more than a ten-fold increase in the sixty years since Bruncken’s first review) in the MPM Friends periodical, Lore. Upon retirement in 1974, Kruschke had devoted thirty years to studying the state’s flora, amassing over 8,500 hawthorn specimens that form the core of the museum’s Crataegus collection. Following his death in 1976, the Emil P. Kruschke Reading Room was established and now contains both botany’s periodicals and word-processing computer facilities.

During the 1930s and 40s many new plant specimens were added (and an active herbarium exchange started) through the efforts of a statewide museum program. Funded by the Works Progress Administration, several of these WPA project workers continued in botany at University of Wisconsin after the program folded. Richard W. Pohl developed into a national authority on grasses and retired as professor emeritus of botany at Iowa State University. Lloyd H. Shinners produced a thesis, The Vegetation of the Milwaukee Region, and a dissertation on Wisconsin grasses; he eventually became professor and herbarium director at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Post-1950 botany appointments included several assistant curators who helped set new direction for MPM following its 1963 move to current quarters. Robert Reich joined the Milwaukee Area Technical College as a biology instructor in 1966 but retained close ties with the museum. Following his recent death, a Robert J. Reich Trust was established for support of local students and volunteers who provide commendable service to botany. Robert W. Freckmann left in 1968 to teach at the UW-Stevens Point campus, where he is today herbarium director and professor

A black and white photograph of a large, ornate building in daylight with a large contingent of people outside.

Entrance facade of the library-museum building during World War I homecoming celebrations. MPM shared this, its third home, on Grand (now Wisconsin) Avenue from 1899 to 1963.

of botany. David A. Kopitzke became both a mushroom fanatic and active proponent of native plant landscaping while at MPM. In 1976 he left to become director of a regional Frank Lloyd Wright museum and founded his own wild plant nursery in southwestern Wisconsin.

In 1975 this author (a fungus specialist) became botany’s earliest doctoral section head, director of the herbarium, and MPM’s first curator of nonvascular plants. Dr. W. Carl Taylor (a fern specialist) was appointed in 1976 as senior vascular plant taxonomist and MPM’s associate curator of botany. In 1981 Neil T. Luebke (a regional specialist) became MPM’s assistant curator of vascular plants, having been hired in 1971 as a student aide. And in 1985 John A. Christy (a moss specialist) was appointed MPM’s assistant curator of nonvascular plants, after serving as a visiting scholar funded by the Institute of Museum Services. During the late 1970s and early 1980s other short-term or part-time botany staff curated some 35,000 lower plant specimens accumulated for a newly cre-   [p. 37]   ated and privately funded Joan Marr Pick Cryptogamic Herbarium. Similar appointments have now permitted partial computerization of the herbarium’s current 250,000 specimens and better management of the section’s biochemical laboratory, greenhouse, and records’ facilities.

Since the early 1970s, botany’s pan-museum role of live plant decoration has blossomed from the activities of a museum garden club, started by MPM’s ninth director, Dr. M. Kenneth Starr (1970-87). Section programming has also benefited from in-house formation of a southeastern chapter to the Botanical Club of Wisconsin and reactivation of the Wisconsin Mycological Society. Herbarium activities have been enhanced by Marquette University work-study students, plant projects of MATC and UW-Milwaukee students, and a pool of a dozen or more botany volunteers. And use of the collections has also been extended by awarding a number of museum plant research titles. The latest update to MPM’s listing in the international Index Herbariorum tabulates eight active research affiliate, research associate, or honorary curator appointments for botany. Herbarium records indicate a total of twenty-two such positions have been granted over the last one-hundred years. Barring drastic cuts in monies budgeted for Milwaukee County’s “discretionary” cultural centers, current botany staffing should make the 1990s an active decade of plant research at MPM.

City to county government

In 1976 after forty years of discussions, Milwaukee’s governments agreed to transfer the museum from city to county ownership. As the nation celebrated its bicentennial and MPM opened its Urban Habitat exhibit, museum staff suffered the triple trauma of bureaucratic change, political repriority, and procurement procrastination. Despite the lack of an endowment, insufficient Friends’ support funds, and some still unresolved governance issues, the museum and botany have now survived over a decade of county calamities. In 1988 after twenty-five years in the current building, a new administration was created under MPM’s tenth director, Dr. Barry H. Rosen. Coinciding with the appointments of a new state governor, county executive, and city mayor, this act heralds a new chapter for one of Milwaukee’s best cultural centers.

Compared to shared quarters in the 1899 library-museum building, MPM’s 1963 occupation of its current facility signaled an era of expansion. Of advantage to botany was Albert Fuller’s intimate involvement in planning the move, and his appointment as the museum’s first assistant director at the time of transfer. The allocated herbarium space and subsequent ability to build in modern ancillaries is much appreciated by MPM’s current plant curators. Today’s botanical activities derive directly from this legacy and represent the culmination of roughly fifteen years of development.

Plant research is done to benefit the public in five program areas:collections, scholarly activities, exhibition, education, and public service. Three clearly offer direct user return; two appear esoteric and of immediate concern only to MPM’s scientists. Understanding the broader implications of these curatorial tasks, however, is perceiving just what museum work is all about: To hold in trust stored objects, to manage these, to ferret out information about them, and to make this variably available to the taxpayer. Not all objects can be on general display, and not all public communication need be through exhibition. Identification, publication, educational outreach, and audio-visual presentation are some museum alternatives. Each of these requires an appropriate investigation to generate accurate and usable data. All are activities applicable to botany as practiced in Wisconsin by MPM’s herbarium staff.


Management of plant collections entails acquiring, preparing, preserving, identifying, labeling, accessioning, cataloging, inserting, storing, using, lending, returning, and servicing specimens. Dried plants kept in herbarium cabinets require scheduled maintenance to mitigate damage by insects and humidity or temperature changes. Add to this the wear-and-tear of public consultation and degradation caused by scientific study in-house or on borrowed specimens. Need to access collections must be minimized and is greatly helped by today’s electronic capture of label data. Computerization proves to be a great preservation tool!

Live plants have their own problems, and those associated with specimens grown for display are distinct from those associated with specimens raised for research. Maintenance of MPM’s greenhouses and various environmental growth chambers requires trained support staff, as does upkeep of botany’s biochemical laboratory, microscope and photographic facilities, and special basement storage area. Today almost as much effort is expended in managing plant holdings and their accessories as is spent on scientific endeavor.

Over the last ten to fifteen years, acquisitions have included personal herbaria of incoming staff, products of various regional field trips, vouchers collected as part of state natural areas projects, plants gathered on exhibition or research expeditions, deeded gifts from donors, purchased herbaria, and inter-institutional exchange materials. Specimens have come from all parts of the world, but in particular from those areas visited or being researched by current staff (Australasia, Europe, Central, North, and South America). Intake for the period is around 75,500 numbers (collection 24,920, exchange 9,660, gift 36,270, and purchase 4,650), while negotiated loans have totaled 226 (25,874 specimens), averaging 115 speci-   [p. 38]   mens per transaction or 2,585 specimens per year.

Complete computerization of the herbarium is in progress. Checklists for suspected state algae, brophytes, fungi, lichens, myxomycetes, ferns, and vascular plants have been produced. Species map-cards now define Wisconsin county distribution records for each identified MPM plant specimen. And literature or taxon indices exist for all ongoing plant projects. Photographic documentation has always been part of any MPM scientific endeavor. Over the last fifteen to twenty years, staff botanists have produced 18,000 photographs to file.

Scholarly activities

Herbarium curators generally practice plant taxonomy. But today, along with naming plants, such systematists study plant anatomy, biochemistry, cytology, ecology, geography, productivity, reproduction, and ultrastructure using sophisticated equipment. MPM’s botanists—both regular staff and appointees—have diversified, and now research such problems for both cryptogamic (nonvascular or spore-producing) and phanerogamic (vascular or seed-producing) plants. Programs developed involve both short and long-term projects with local, regional, national, or international implications.

Local projects include bryophytes of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, city feral plants, lichens and urban pollution, Milwaukee’s railroad flora, parkland natural areas, shoreline fungi, tamarack swamp vegetation, and weed ordinances. Regional projects involve Amer-Indian ethnobotany and edible wild plants, Apostle Island and driftless area floras, ferns and fern allies of Arkansas and Wisconsin, Ice Age Trail and sphagnum bog vegetation, midwestern prairie and strip mine bryophytes, mushrooms of the Great Lakes states, state natural area surveys, and vegetation of Wisconsin old-growth forests.

National and international investigations cover Arctic and al pine fungi; American and old world quillworts; Caribbean island foristics; flora of North America projects; lichens of Australasia, Latin America, and the Sonoran Desert; Rocky Mountain and West Coast bryophtes; and vegetation of the Queen Charlotte islands. Specific taxon treatments involve the biology of Aster furcatus and Iris Lacustris and the genera Isoetes (a fern ally), Limbella (a moss), Ochrolechia and Pertusaria (lichens), and Scieroderma (a puffball fungus).

Since 1975 the botany staff has organized or participated in fifty-eight regional, national, or international professional plant conventions and workshops. They have visited Australia and New Zealand, the British Isles, Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario), the Caribbean, central and western Europe, Japan, Scandinavia, the Soviet Union (Baltic states, Georgia, Leningrad and Moscow), and most of the United States including Hawaii. Expeditions led or attended have been part of annual American Institute of Biological Sciences society excursions, regional Great Lakes mycological and midwestern bryological forays, JAL tropical lichen symposia (Baja California and Costa Rica), and two MPM-NYBG Projecta Flora Amazonica trips to the central regions (Mato Grosso and Para) and western frontier (Rondonia) of Brazil. During the past decade staff have also been appointed as adjunct professors of cryptogamic botany and pteridology at UW-Milwaukee, to a variety of peer society positions (such as officers and journal editors), and as grant reviewers for professional funding agencies.

Over the last fifteen years staff and appointees have won more than $285,000 from a dozen or so such granting agencies in support of museum botany projects. This excludes team participation in the funding for MPM’s 1983 centennial geology hall ($400,000) and 1988 quaternary rain forest biology hall ($600,000) from the National Science Foundation’s “Understanding of Science” program. During this time, research by these same botanists has produced over 250 invited or presented papers at plant meetings, resulting in some 185 peer-reviewed publications appearing in forty or more botanical journals. In addition, there have been three major monographs, five popular booklets, and a recent keynote address, “Museum Collections: Responsibilities for a Coming Age,” given before the Chicago Annual Meeting of the American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta.


Exhibition design and installation is the prerogative of the museum’s exhibit and graphics section, but exhibit concept, subject knowledge, and object selection emanates from the curatorial staff. Plant research related to exhibition is varied; it depends upon whether the exhibit is to travel or be home-based and then of short- or long-term duration. Short-term exhibits involve merely case or wall renovation and are generally small. Most are displayed only weeks or months before being destroyed, and normally cover “hot,” seasonal, or temporary subjects. Long-term exhibits are discipline or interdisciplinary shows which involve major renovation of a hall or wing. They display significant portions of the collections, last ten to fifteen years or more, and usually are designed to be periodically updated. Traveling exhibits are intermediate, of various size and subject, and may or may not involve objects. Smaller photo/graphic displays may be in replicate while larger unicate (often “blockbuster”) shows borrow their unique materials from multiple sources. Both are designed to survive transport and reconstruction over a three-to-five-year or more lifespan.

In the last two decades botany has contributed to six major museum exhibitions, as well as updates of earlier natural history cases, and the long-term plant exhibits in the Discovery Center and hands-on children’s workshop of   [p. 39]   education’s Wizard Wing. Input has ranged from botanical “decoration” of historic themes in the European Village and Streets of Old Milwaukee, through discrete units on plant domestication and paleobotany placed respectively in the Urban Habitat and geology halls, to the full vegetation and multiple plant biology concepts just created in the rain forest biology hall. The latter, in particular, has set new standards for museum display and brought Milwaukee further national acclaim. At its 1989 meetings in New Orleans, the American Association of Museums in initiating recognition for museum exhibition awarded MPM’s environmental rain forest hall first place.

Temporary botanical exhibits have covered Carnivorous Plants, Dandelions, Dinosaurs Need Plants Too, Endangered Plant Species, Winter Botany, Wisconsin’s Cranberry Industry, Wood in Man’s Life, and 100 Years of Collections. Plant photoexhibits have portrayed Amazonia—Glimpses of a New Frontier, Australasia—MPM Down Under, Fruits of Decay—Midwestern Mushrooms, and Lichens—An Unholy Marriage. Traveling exhibits requiring vegetational support have included Fields of Grass, Magnificent Voyagers, Native Harvests—Plants in American Indian Life, 500 Years of Botanical Illustration, and a pending exhibit on Hawaii’s Unique and Vanishing Flora. Proposed topics will encompass floristics of both regional and national concern: Cocaine—History of a Global Epidemic and Plant Trash—Urban Management of Garden Wastes.

Beyond these dead displays, botany also controls a three-climate rooftop greenhouse and two plant demonstration gardens on the museum grounds. The greenhouse includes live collections of plant kingdom members used in class teaching, reference specimens for plants modeled in exhibit cases, and experimental materials concerned with ongoing research (currently populations of the quillwort

A black and white photograph of rain forest display with tree and foliage samples within glass cases.

“Rain Forest: Exploring Life on Earth.” A small sample of the diversity diorama, one of thirty-five theme areas within MPM’s new 12,000 square foot interactive environmental exhibit hall which opened in the fall of 1988.

fern ally ). MPM’s frontage wild yard extols the virtues of native plantings as an alternate to urban and suburban lawns. Concepts, plant types to use, and potential sources of material are explained in a supporting pamphlet “Following Our Second Nature.” A complementary herb garden is maintained by the museum’s garden club in the open-air courtyard associated with the Wizard Wing’s Pioneer Village.


As adjunct professors of botany, staff members teach aspects of graduate and undergraduate courses in the plant sciences at UW-Milwaukee. Special topic seminars are also given at Marquette University and the Milwaukee Institute for Art and Design. Student project or M.S. thesis studies completed during the last dozen years have reported on Amanita Mushroom Toxicity, Bryophytes of the Upper Milwaukee River. Conservation of Coastal Mosses, Distribution Patterns of Urban Tree Lichens. Fern and Fern Ally Hybrid Species, Fungi of the UW-M Field Station, Graveyard Lichens and Pollution History, Isozyme Protein Banding Patterns. Kettle Moraine Freshwater Spring Algae, Quillwort Spore Morphology and Ornamentation, Regenerative Multiplication of Conifer Cuttings, Rural and Urban Soil Ascomycetes, and Ultrastructure of Lichen Fruiting Bodies.

Adult plant education is conducted at the museum and selected   [p. 40]   field sites by means of Elderhostel, Museum Naturalist, or Vision Quest-type courses. Indirect teaching of public groups through training of teacher naturalists is also performed at area centers through Ecofocus-type classes. Brochures, field guides, identification keys, and 35 mm slide sets have resulted from such programs given at The Clearing, the Ridges Sanctuary, UW-Milwaukee’s Field Station, and the Retzger, River Bend, River Edge, River Wildlife, Schlitz Audubon, and Wehr nature centers. Plant related teacher in-service has also developed at MPM from a NSF-funded workshop on “Learning to Read Natural History Objects” jointly organized by botany, education, and the state’s Milwaukee-based Havenwoods Environmental Awareness Center.

As a supplement to MPM education staff, curatorial training of volunteer docent and muse guides is done to improve exhibit hail botanical tours. And across the year additional plant education is provided by the museum’s garden club for Arbor Day activities, festive holiday celebrations, and selected museum exhibits. Two seasonal programs that provide specific plant information are run by the clubs affiliated with the botany section. The Mushroom Fair (last Sunday in September) and Wildflower Show (first Sunday in June) are each one-day events focused on specimen identification that attract around 2000 persons.

Public service

A 1976 ad hoc association of Milwaukee city and county botanists redefined roles, decreased redundancy, and maximized public service among the region’s civil service plant agencies. From this base, MPM’s current botanical outreach allows for both local campus and extension service facilities. Second only to UW-Madison as a major state plant repository, the MPM herbarium is uniquely placed amongst Wisconsin’s largest populace, who enter its domain for a variety of museum interests. Ac-

A black and white photograph of four men in suits.

Current curatorial staff in MPM’s Section for Botany (spring 1989). L to R: W. Carl Taylor (ferns), John A. Christy (mosses), Martyn J. Dibben (fungi), and Neil T. Luebke (vascular plants).

cordingly, programs have been developed to meet the needs of this captive metropolitan audience.

Indirect herbarium service varies from aiding city, county, state, and federal agencies to interacting with business and industrial colleagues. For example, analysis of Milwaukee County parklands has established that less than 2 percent of the woodlands and wetlands are botanically significant as remnant areas. Cooperation with Center for Great Lakes Research scientists has influenced investigations on biological phenomena, sewage disposal organisms, and waste recycling. Staff botanists have provided expert testimony in court cases dealing with environmental issues, federal and state-listed species, narcotics seizures, and noxious plant infringements. Watershed baseline vegetation studies done for regional power companies have addressed potential site degradation with respect to station placement, contaminant spills, altered runoff, gaseous discharge, and thermal pollution. Public activities during the 1980s included more than thirty-five uses of plant collections or the botany staff in the service of society.

Direct herbarium service borders on education and the two frequently overlap. For example, identification aids to mushrooms, poisonous plants, spring flowers, winter twigs, and woody plants are available for class teaching or individual learning. The herbarium also lends selected specimens or slide sets for artistic and classroom use. Botany receives requests to speak on career advice to students, popular plant groups or exhibits to the general public, or specific expedition or research reports to colleagues or Friends of MPM. Business, civic, and social organizations along with area libraries and garden clubs frequently schedule lectures. Workshops on plant groups are always popular, and similar success is currently being enjoyed by a visiting lecturer series on global environmental issues. Staff also regularly judge entries in the Marquette University statewide science fair.

Educational hikes in season along city streets, in county parks, and at local nature centers complement the state forays run as part of allied club meetings. Public or society tours to state, regional, and national conservancy or natural areas complement the more exotic MPM expeditions run abroad to island or mainland territories. An edible and poisonous mushroom course, recently established in part by botany staff at the Alberta Ford Forestry Camp (L’Anse, Michigan), has become a regular fall meeting for members of the Wisconsin Mycological Society. A tropical museum plant ecology and ornithology workshop, initially run in conjunction with the Schlitz Audubon Center, uses Costa Rica as its base. MPM biologists have to-   [p. 41]   gether organized a successful public tour that includes Ecuador, the upper Amazon, and the Galapagos Islands.

Botanical outreach is also achieved through staff membership of (or board appointment to) such area conservation bodies as the Natural Areas Preservation Council, Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Wisconsin’s Naturalists Association and Phenological Society, and state chapters of the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, and Sierra Club. Similar roles occur through association with support groups for nature centers and neighborhood plant facilities like Boerner Botanical Garden, Mitchell Park Domes, and the Milwaukee County Park System. Such alliances have proved of use in addressing vegetational issues facing local significant habitats, for example Falk Park, Jacobus Park, and Bradley Woods.

The botany section is also a twenty-four hour resource for the region’s poison center through staff expertise in mushroom and higher plant toxicities. Health fair and hospital lectures on these subjects inform the public, train nurses, and certify doctors in plant toxicology. During the 1980s the staff created video disc segments for educational use within the rain forest biohall. But earlier in the 1970s botany had cooperated with Wisconsin’s Department of Health in producing a 16 mm medical training film, “Nature’s Magic: Toxic Beauty,” on poisonous plants of the American Midwest. Outreach has also been offered through the electronic media, such as recorded UW-Extension Dial-A-Tip telephone plant services, and radio or television appearances about upcoming botanical events, or on news programs, in regional documentaries and shows.

Finally, the botany staff respond to numerous public plant-identification requests, letters, phone calls, and personal visits to the herbarium. It is not surprising, therefore, that over the last dozen years botany’s annual public service con- tacts have averaged 645 persons per curator—roughly ten section contacts per working day!

The 1990s and beyond

With the twenty-first century only a decade away thoughts turn to planning for the future. The botany section’s mission and goals must address predictions and shortfalls about designed growth and use of the plant collections among a changing society.

Within any tax-supported institute staffing needs are always a prime issue. For the 1 990s botany needs the allocation of two part-time summer assistants to facilitate precomputerization work on backlogged plant collections; these positions could provide herbarium experience for retraining of high school teachers. The botany and geology sections together could also benefit from joint funding to support a shared curator of paleobotany. The museum’s fossil plant collections need much rescue and redirection.

Expansion of the herbarium through either mezzanine construction or installation of compactor-units is also critical. A tripling of lower and a doubling of higher plant storage space will be needed before the year 2000. Before this time both greenhouse and growth chamber facilities and controls will need to be renovated. And botany’s biochemical laboratory should be modified to improve procedures and safety for both organic thin-layer chromatography and protein electrophoretic operations.

MPM plans to acquire a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to be located in the botany section in the 1990s and hire a part-time technician to support pan-museum use. Until then museum staff and students must continue to operate using time available on UW-Milwaukee’s bioscience SEM facility. If the herbarium is to be fully computerized by 2000, then upgrade of MPM mainframe and personal computers’ capabilities is required to permit multiple user access, faster data recall, quality graphics display, improved label production, and safer backup systems.

Botany programming should remain much the same with established courses, club activities, hikes and tours, and annual or seasonal museum events. However, the visiting lecturers program may be broadened to include interdisciplinary plant biology topics; new photodisplays on Australasia and Baja California could be generated from ongoing research; and popular photoguides to common plant groups of the Great Lakes region will likely be produced. National coach tours led by the botany section are also proposed as alternating spring trips to see the Appalachian flora and deserts of the Southwest.

Positive evaluation received on the botanical content of MPM’s rain forest should provide a good start to education’s new 1990s biosciences grade school programs. Also proposed is the development of one or more MPM-sponsored symposia on museums as natural science learning centers for the twenty-first century. Special programs for handicapped visitors to the greenhouse, mushroom fair, and wildflower show may also be created, with outreach versions distributed to hospice care, retirement home, and senior citizen centers. And elements of MPM’s wild yard will probably be transferred to the enclosed Pioneer Village courtyard to eliminate the frontage display which is now suffering abuse from city street people.

The museum s current long-range plan includes support for all these goals via administrative approval of proposed budget and outside funding strategies into the next century. Success will be achieved, however, only if museum marketing is improved and correctly targets both audiences and those news and communications media which readily promote the botanical awareness and plant appreciation found at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

Previous Previous section

Next section Next

Go up to Top of Page