Carolina's herbarium is a collection of more than 700,000 plant specimens, making it the largest in the Southeast and one of the most important in the United States. Scientists use herbaria to help identify new plant species and investigate environmental changes and their effects. The public can view specimens in an herbaria to identify wildflowers and trees they see on their property or in parks and other natural areas. If cared for properly, a specimen can last forever, allowing researchers a glimpse into the environment of a particular place at a particular time.
The idea for Heston's first major gift to Carolina actually came when she picked up on the fund-raising buzz around the $1.3 billion campaign at another university, Dartmouth College, in her hometown of Hanover, N.H. As her husband, John, a Dartmouth alumnus, prepared to make his reunion gift, she decided it was a good time to give something back to her alma mater.
“I loved Carolina,” said Heston, who came to UNC for an English degree after two years at Bradford Junior College. “My memories of Chapel Hill are the Y-Court, study dates in the library, football weekends, rush week and all the wonderful new friends I made.” She said that she is still good friends with her Carolina roommate, Judy Landauer McLaughlin, and sees her regularly in New Hampshire. After Carolina, Heston worked for two years in New York City in the advertising department of The New Yorker magazine. She married John in 1958, and they moved to Hanover when he took a job at Dartmouth.
With Heston's 50th class reunion just around the corner, circumstances coalesced into an ideal occasion for a major gift. After talking with the botanical garden staff, she decided to provide a source of perpetual support for students working with the herbarium, giving them an opportunity to advance themselves in the field while strengthening the botanical garden's mission of teaching, research and conservation. The Charles T. Mohr Herbarium Internship was a natural fit.
The Mohr Internship is the second intern-funding source at the herbarium. The other is the Mary McKee Felton Internship, which honors a longtime herbarium employee and Class of 1938 alumna who passed away in 2001. Herbarium Curator Alan Weakley said, “We are delighted, and we are so very grateful to Betty Heston. This makes the herbarium a more active and living place, and it means countless students will enjoy the opportunity of hands-on field work and the all-important databasing and research to advance their educational goals while also advancing the herbarium's role in the plant-science community.”
The herbarium is vital to the botanical garden's public outreach and conservation efforts. It provides online educational tools and is the major source for a new guidebook being compiled on the flora of the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia. The guide will be a valuable resource for many farmers, botanists and conservationists in the Southeast. “The herbarium is not a dry, dusty research institution,” Weakley said. (Visit www.herbarium.unc.edu to take advantage of the online tools and information available there.)
Currently housed on Carolina's campus in Coker Hall, the herbarium's official home is Coker's fourth floor, but it has long since spread beyond the space originally designated and occupies hallways and other space on the first and third floors. The growth of the herbarium has given rise to plans for a new facility near the botanical garden. The herbarium is among the areas the garden is targeting with Carolina First Campaign funds. Overall, the garden has raised 95 percent of its $8 million campaign goal.
Heston said her own love for plants was passed down from her mother. Growing up in Bronxville, N.Y., and summering in Rhode Island, Heston and her mother enjoyed gardening and pruning together. Heston's mother kept an extensive perennial garden and enjoyed arranging and painting flowers. “There were always flowers in the house,” she said. Her mother also planted specimen trees and shrubs that students from the University of Rhode Island would come and study. Heston's home in Hanover is now visited by Dartmouth students who often stop to admire her garden and the many new plants and flowers she adds each year.
And with Heston seeding interest in her three children and eight grandchildren, the family gardening tradition looks to continue growing for generations to come.
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To learn more information, make a gift to the Charles T. Mohr Herbarium Internship or find out other ways you can support the North Carolina Botanical Garden, contact Charlotte Jones-Roe, associate director for development, at 919-962-9458 or email@example.com.