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Forest Products Laboratory
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Madison, WI 53726-2398
Phone: (608) 231-9200
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About Madison (MADw) Collection

Below is an excerpt from "Xylaria at the Forest Products Laboratory: Past, Present, and Future", by Regis B. Miller.


Early Development of Wood Collection

Center For Wood Anatomy ResearchA day after the formal opening of the Forest Products Laboratory, USDA Forest Service, in June 1910, Eloise Gerry reported to work and the wood anatomy unit, along with the wood collection at Madison (MADw), was born. Gerry was specifically hired to prepare microscope slides and photomicrographs for wood anatomical study. She held both bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard University's Radcliffe College for women and was hired because of her experience in wood anatomy and tree physiology. Her master's thesis was entitled Distribution of "Bars of Sanio" in the Coniferales. In her personal notes (Gerry 1961), Gerry states, "I must admit the Forest Service did not want a woman, but as it happened there wasn't any man willing to come and do the work." Her statement reflects some of the politics at the time, but this did not stop Gerry, the first female scientist in the Forest Service. (For more information, see Nelson 1971.)

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) did not have a wood collection nor did it have much equipment for wood anatomy research. In the summer of 1910, the University of Wisconsin provided a microscope and quarters in Science Hall for Gerry, and she borrowed a microtome from Edward C. Jeffery, her major professor at Harvard. Initially, most samples came from expositions and fairs as well as a small collection brought to FPL by Harry Tiemann, Gerry's first supervisor and head of the Timber Physics section. Although some of these samples are still in the FPL collection, if there was herbarium material documentation associated with them, it has since been lost or at least disassociated from the wood samples. Collectors listed on some of these early samples include C. D. Mell, co-author with S. J. Record of the Timbers of Tropical America (1924), George Sudworth, Dendrologist for the Forest Service, and others who were apparently foresters working on the national forests.

In 1914, Arthur Koehler (Fig. 2) joined the Timber Physics unit at FPL to handle wood identifications. He had entered the Forest Service in Washington, D.C., in 1911 with a new bachelor of forestry degree from the University of Michigan. When Koehler arrived at FPL, he brought a small wood collection in beautiful walnut cabinets that he had maintained in Washington. This may have been part of Tiemann's collection since Tiemann was also in Washington at that time, and records suggest that Tiemann maintained a collection there as early as 1910.

In 1920, Koehler was made head of a new FPL division, Wood Technology, which almost became a division of biological science because of strong feelings that a closer relationship should be developed between the living forest and wood products. At this time, the FPL wood collection was still in its infancy and perhaps only a few thousand samples had been accumulated. Most of these samples were native woods, and only a small percentage were tropical in origin.

In early 1945, Bohumil Francis Kukachka (Fig. 3), known as Kuky by nearly everyone, accepted the position of wood anatomist after earning his bachelor of science degree in 1937 and doctorate degree in 1942 in wood technology from the University of Minnesota. His Ph.D. thesis was entitled Systematic Anatomy of the Woods of the Tiliaceae (Kukachka 1944). Kukachka began his career at FPL on August 18, 1945 (Miller and Mori 1984).


Reorganization of Collection

Center For Wood Anatomy ResearchIn 1948, Koehler retired and Kukachka became the curator of the collection. Since new oak cabinets built at FPL had just been installed, it was the perfect time to overhaul the wood collection as the specimens were moved from the walnut cabinets to the new cabinets. (Today, both sets of cabinets are still being used.) While moving the specimens, Kukachka decided to reorganize the wood collection from a numerical system to one where the specimens were arranged alphabetically by family, then genus and species, and finally accession number. His goal was to make all the specimens of a particular genus readily available for examination and comparison, to serve the vast number of requests for wood identification. In addition, his philosophy was to keep only samples that were well-authenticated with herbarium material. Consequently, he discarded many undocumented samples that had been accessioned from previous identifications. This left large gaps in the numbering system that were sometimes filled by more recent incidental acquisitions. The unfilled numbers have been referred to as "open" numbers. In addition, the original handwritten index cards were retyped by Kukachka and his secretary. As a consequence, it is difficult to know how much information might have been lost and how many samples were in the collection in 1945 when Kukachka became the curator. However, the last sample collected by Koehler was dated 1945 and numbered MADw 11386. In addition, several samples collected by Kukachka in 1945 are numbered between 11350 and 11400. This suggests that the collection contained approximately 11,000 samples in 1945 before it was reorganized. A search of the files, review of dates on records, and examination of a variety of collectors' names before sample 11400 suggest that Kukachka discarded several thousand samples, possibly as many as 6,000.

Although we can only speculate how the collection was organized and what it contained prior to 1945, today we use the same system initiated by Kukachka. The wood specimens are generally 80 mm (3 in.) wide and 100 mm (3.9 in.) long so that they can be filed conveniently in wood drawers (Figs. 4 and 5). The specimens are organized alphabetically. The scientific name, country of origin, and accession number are written on each sample with a black indelible marking pen. All the information about the specimen is placed on two index cards, 76 by 127 mm (2.9 by 5 in.). One card is filed alphabetically by genus, species, and accession number, and the other card is filed numerically.

In 1955, Robert C. Koeppen started working for Kukachka as a part-time student employee while working on his master's and doctorate degrees in taxonomy at the University of Wisconsin. The highest accession number in the collection at this time was about 17000. It is obvious that some open numbers had been filled, but certainly not all of them. Also, some numbers were still being purged as Kukachka found misidentified samples and "useless" samples, as he called those without associated herbarium vouchers. Before Koeppen arrived, there were no records of accessions, loans, and exchanges. However, because of Koeppen's training as a taxonomist and previous work in the University's herbarium, he initiated good curatorial practices and accurate recordkeeping for both the herbarium and the wood collection.

In 1963, I arrived at FPL as a summer student from West Virginia University, where I was majoring in wood science. In the summer of 1965, I worked for Kukachka and returned in January 1996, while I undertook graduate studies in botany at the University of Wisconsin. After finishing my master's degree in 1968 with Professor Ray Evert, I enrolled as a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland in the Botany Department working under Professor William Louis Stern, who had just returned to teaching from work at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. By this time, the FPL collection had grown to nearly 25,000 specimens, but open numbers still remained. By the time I returned to FPL in 1970, the number of wood specimens had more than tripled with the acquisition of the Samuel James Record Memorial wood collection (SJRw, formerly Yw) from the Yale University School of Forestry.

The MADw collection has grown to nearly 50,000 specimens. We are continuing to add specimens to this collection but have more or less restricted the accessions to those that are backed with herbarium material. On occasion, however, I will add specimens without vouchers if we do not have ample material or if the specimens are of exceptional quality (e.g., from large mature trees showing heartwood).


Description of MADw Collection

Center For Wood Anatomy ResearchI examined the MADw database and accumulated some interesting facts. Our latest accession number is over 49000; however, 1,800 are still open numbers and nearly 2,000 specimens are being processed and have not yet been entered in the database. Presently, the database contains approximately 45,000 specimens, which are 91% hardwoods or dicotyledonous angiosperms. Represented are about 14,000 species, 3,000 genera, and 265 families. Of course, this does not account for the synonymy that exists in every xylarium and herbarium. The genus with the most species is Quercus with 222 species, followed by Eucalyptus with 144, and then Ficus with 127. However, the genus with the most specimens is Pinus with 1,311, followed by Quercus with 981. The four most common species are softwoods (gymnosperms): Pinus echinata P. Mill., P. ponderosa Douglas ex Lawson, P. palustris P. Mill., and Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco, with 124, 122, 97, and 88 specimens, respectively. The two most common hardwoods are Cordia alliodora (Ruiz & Pavon) Oken (82 specimens) and Swietenia macrophylla King (61 specimens). As you can imagine, the family with the most specimens is Leguminosae (Fabaceae) with 5,491 specimens;1,724 species and 348 genera.

Based on geographic regions, the collection is 65% New World, i.e., 28,700 specimens of which 20,300 are from Latin America. The 35% Old World specimens come primarily from Asia (8,800 specimens) and Africa (4,400 specimens), and the remainder come from Australia, Europe, and the Pacific Islands. The country with the most specimens is the United States, with 8,300 specimens, followed by Brazil with 5,300, Peru with 3,100, Venezuela with 2,000, and the Philippines with 1,700.

As we added data to the database, we tried to determine whether the specimens were vouchered. If the specimens were vouchered, we included the Index Herbariorum acronym for the location of the vouchers (Holmgren et al. 1990); At present, I estimate that MADw contains 62% vouchered material, 8% not vouchered, and 30% with an uncertain status. For some of the latter material, we may yet determine if there are vouchers; for the rest, we may never know.

The collectors for MADw have been many and varied. There are well-known collectors such as M. Acosta-Solís, B. A. Krukoff, Llewelyn Williams, and Roger Dechamps, but many collectors are only represented by a few samples. Institutes such as the British Guiana Forestry Department and other xylaria such as USw (Smithsonian Institute) combine to constitute a large percentage of what we designate as collectors. These specimens were obtained through exchange and may represent many collectors. Llewelyn Williams collected the most (3,367), followed by B.A. Krukoff (3,168) and TERVw (2,222). Included in the TERVw specimen count is Roger Dechamps' personal collection of 1,435 specimens, the third largest personal collection. Williams, Krukoff, and Dechamps account for nearly 18% of the total number of MADw specimens.

One of the greatest benefits of computerizing a wood collection is learning more about the collection. Much of the learning is not in the final searches and sorts that can be done, but in the process of adding data about each specimen. It becomes a history lesson, a taxonomic lesson, and a geography lesson all rolled into one. As we continue to add and edit the MADw collection, we are continually learning and discovering.