RAMMs oldest specimen
RAMM’s senior curator of natural history retired at the end of April having worked at the museum for over 30 years. Whilst undertaking some research in order to answer an enquiry from the Natural History Museum, London he found RAMM’s oldest biological specimen to date – a seaweed sample collected over 210 years ago!
The specimen of tufted conifer-weed (Boergeseniella thuyoides), a red alga, was collected on the Cornish coast in 1801 by the renowned seaweed collector Mrs Amelia Griffiths who lived in Torquay. She was a dedicated and diligent collector who not only provided the foremost algologists of her time with new material to describe, but also popularised seaweed collecting and promoted our seaside towns as holiday destinations. In 1817 her reputation was so great that an eminent Swedish botanist (Carl Agardh) named a genus of red seaweeds Griffithsia in her honour.
This specimen is held in one of three volumes of pressed seaweeds that were collected, mounted and complied by Mrs Griffiths. Once the seaweed had been collected on the shore and cleaned of sand she would have floated it in a shallow tray of water to allow it to spread out in a natural form. She would then have slipped a thick sheet of paper underneath it and used it to lift the seaweed from the tray being careful not to disturb the attractive and biologically relevant arrangement of the fronds. The sheet would then have been pressed in much the same way as we press flowers today.