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CIP’s herbarium provides adaption timeline of Andean roots and tubers

Although the International Potato Center (CIP) is well-known for the scientific investigations it carries out in laboratories and fields around the world, behind the research lies its herbarium, which serves as an archive of roots and tuber species studied and cultivated over the past 40 years. The herbarium connects the organization’s early, groundbreaking studies with its current projects, creating a visual and scientific history that reflects the evolution of CIP’s research.

Housed in CIP’s Biodiversity Complexity Building, the “Ochoa Herbarium” was founded in August 2001 and preserves 16,000 entries on 46,000 sheets of roots, tubers and related flora.

“The herbarium serves as a visual archive of how root, tuber and associated flora have adapted to their environments. In some cases, the general flora found around the particular species has also been preserved, which in turn displays the ecological community in which the particular species was found,” explains Fanny Vargas, Herbarium head.

The Ochoa Herbarium is consequently not only an important source of information for researchers but also a vital timeline of root and tuber evolution over the past 40 years. The herbarium does not merely display plant specimens; it also serves as a databank regarding the taxonomies, morphologies and ecologies of the species it preserves. This information is all the more crucial in light of the genetic and environmental erosion of the world’s biodiversity. These preserved species also document habitats and genetic developments that may have already disappeared or may be on the verge of doing so.

herbario2.JPGThe herbarium is an investigative space with the following functions: it serves as a depository for work conducted and produced in the field or in the laboratory; helps to identify plants via comparison study; is available for consultation by researchers either in-person or through information-sharing; is part of an exchange program with national and international herbariums wherein it shares its duplicated material with interested parties; helps pertinent entities acquire information for monographs and/or catalogues regarding medicinal, aromatic, comestible, and/or ethnobotanic plants and species; and works to enhance understanding of the cultivars of certain zones.

The herbarium is named after and dedicated to Professor Carlos Ochoa, the first head of CIP’s Genebank.

“Carlos Ochoa was the Indiana Jones of the potato. He was famous for the adventures he would undertake to collect wild and native potatoes. He is regarded as a champion of the potato for having recovered over eighty wild species, documented them, and introduced them to the world via his various publications -- in addition to creating improved potato varieties that are still being sold in Lima’s markets today,” noted Fanny.fvargas.JPG

“The Professor’s vision of an herbarium was premonitory; he realized that these plants were under threat and that many of them were beginning to disappear from their original habitats. He consequently made it his goal to preserve them before they were lost to history. Professor Ochoa can and should be an inspiration for young Peruvians everywhere, for his passion for his work, his discoveries, and his love of his country and its land.”

Text and Photos by Grace Remington (g.remington@cgiar.org)

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