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Wisconsin academy review (Dec. 1989)

View all of Milwaukee Public Museum: A Century of Wisconsin Botany

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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!

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