Exclusive Look at Valuable Plant Collection Saved From Fire

BURLINGTON, Vt. - A $3 million plant collection at the University of Vermont that survived a large fire at Torrey Hall in early August has been moved to a temporary home.

Curator Dave Barrington gave Local 22 & Local 44 News an exclusive tour of the Pringle Herbarium’s new location at Jeffords Hall.

“I like ferns a lot,” he said enthusiastically while looking at a cabinet full of plant specimens.

He’s been curator of the Herbarium for more than forty years. In fact, he was the one who moved the Herbarium to Torrey Hall during his first year as curator.

His reaction when he heard Torrey Hall was on fire on August 3rd: I hope they know the plant collection is precious.

“I kept going back and forth from a total disaster scenario to, hey, maybe it's just a little fire,” he remembered.

Construction crews soldering on the roof caused the fire, according to officials.
“I came up with a best case scenario which was all the specimens in the metal cabinets were fine and it turned out to be exactly the case, so call me an optimist,” he said.

The Pringle Herbarium is named after Cyrus Herbarium, a famous curator from Vermont.

“He did a massive amount of collecting both in Vermont and then other places in the world, especially Arizona and Mexico,” said Barrington.

The Herbarium is a collection of more than 300,000 dried, pressed plants dating back to the early 1800’s.

The specimens come from all over the world, including the Philippines, Taiwan and Australia.

It’s the third largest herbarium in New England, behind Yale and Harvard, according to Barrington.

As fate would have it, the University secured a $470,000 grant within the last few years to purchase 186 waterproof, fireproof cabinets.

“The cabinets did their job,” said Barrington.

The fire claimed less than 2% of the plant specimens due to water damage. Those specimens were not inside the new cabinets.

Thousands of animal specimens also made it through.

The mission of the Pringle Herbarium is to serve the conservation community, protect endangered species and plan for the handling of invasive species.

It also supports the activities of a research community that’s interested in the diversity of plants and their evolutionary history, according to Barrington.

“It's worth at least $3 million  but that's ignoring the whole intrinsic value that relates to the people involved and the cultural heritage that's represented in the history,” said Barrington. “We, in Vermont, have a natural heritage and the collections, the biological collections, plants and animals, are a record, a documentation, of that natural heritage that we have."

Barrington expects the plants to remain at Jeffords Hall for up to two years before moving into a rebuilt Torrey Hall that he hopes will be even better than the original.

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