For all the care and devotion of their curators, botanical specimens have inherent flaws that play against them. They are susceptible to heat, cold, humidity, mold and insects, as well as to chemicals once thought to protect them. Despite our efforts to prolong their lives, our methods cannot always have a happy ending. And yet, to step away from science and to observe these specimens from a different perspective, the flaws can be touchingly beautiful. The narrow winding holes made by beetles, the fading and distortion of color, the mystery when identity and provenance are swept away by time and dust can capture the mind of an explorer and create intrigue in the hidden dark corners of herbaria. We cannot suspend forever the lives of specimens, but we can respect and appreciate the delicate fragility of science.

Images above are specimens within the Harvard University Herbarium