Constancea 83, 2002
University and Jepson Herbaria
P.C. Silva Festschrift

The Schmitz Slide Collection at the Natural History Museum, London (BM)

J.A. Bryant and L.M. Irvine
Department of Botany, The Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD, UK.

Schmitz portrait


Friedrich Schmitz (portrait above) was born on March 8th 1850 in Saarbrücken, Germany and died at the early age of 45 at Greifswald on January 28th 1895 (Carruthers 1895). Educated in Saarbrücken, he studied biology at Bonn University and started collecting algae during the Franco-Prussian war when he was posted to the Normandy coast. After the war he finished his degree in Bonn, worked in Halle and Strasbourg and eventually became Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanical Gardens at the University of Greifswald, Germany.

He spent time in Greece and at the Zoological Station at Naples, Italy, where he did much of the collecting that was the foundation of his research. He was exceptionally skilled at examining algae and showed extraordinary devotion to his subject, thereby achieving a large body of important work in a comparatively short life. It is clear that Schmitz was a helpful and admired correspondent and friend to many of the phycologists of his time. For a more extensive obituary and bibliography see either De Toni (1895, in Italian) or Hauptfleisch (1895, in German).

There is a “folk memory” here at the Natural History Museum (BM) that Schmitz's collections were transferred to the Botanical Museum, Berlin-Dahlem (B), but so far we have been unable to find any evidence to substantiate this assumption. Hiepko (1987) states that the algae collections at B were completely destroyed in 1943, apart from 57 sheets that were on loan and some material that survived in the basement. It is possible that at least some of Schmitz's specimens remained at the University of Greifswald (GFW) and are among the unmounted material. Regine Jahn, senior curator at B, recently visited Greifswald but was unable to locate any Schmitz material (R. Jahn, pers. comm., 2002). Koster (1969) recorded that there were a few Schmitz types in the Rijksherbarium, Leiden (L).

However, it has not been generally realised that Schmitz and his assistant Hauptfleisch had prepared over 7000 microscope slides (Fig. 2), mainly of Rhodophyta and this collection was purchased by the Natural History Museum, London (BM), in 1899. According to Murray (1904) these represented “the types of his Florideae as classified in Engler and Prantl's Pflanzenfamilien”. Schmitz left the main part of the manuscript for this work upon his death and Hauptfleisch completed the treatment (Stafleu and Cowan 1985). Falkenberg was also a co-author (of the Rhodomelaceae) and the publication dates for each part of the Rhodophyceae section of Engler and Prantl straddle the years 1896 and 1897. Correct citation of authorship and publication date is lengthy so the work is cited here as Engler and Prantl (1896 and 1897) for convenience (for clarification see Stafleu and Cowan 1985).

It is clear from the slide labels that Schmitz was successful in obtaining original material from a wide range of authors and herbaria, so that the collection contains a great many fragments of nomenclatural types, prepared to show critical features whenever possible. Thus the collection is significant, not only for the number of types, range of collectors and localities represented, but also because it contains fragments of specimens that were probably later destroyed at B. Despite their age, the slides are usually in sufficiently good condition to be useful for research purposes (Fig. 3).

Examples of the use of the Schmitz slide collection in current published research

The genus Bangiopsis was erected by Schmitz (1896) to accommodate an alga previously known as Comsopogon subsimplex Montagne, based on Leprieurís collection from Cayenne, French Guiana. Schmitz regarded the genus as a doubtful member of the Bangiaceae. Krishnamurthy (1957) accepted two species in the genus Bangiopsis, the second being B. dumontioides (P. Crouan & H. Crouan) Krishnamurthy. In order to identify his material from South India correctly, Krishnamurthy examined the types of both species, including the seven isotype slides (Schmitz slides bar-code: BM000650053 to BM000650059) of Comsopogon subsimplex in BM. Almost certainly, Schmitz had used these slides as the basis for his description of the genus Bangiopsis.

Chamberlain (1962) made drawings (pl. 82) from seven preparations (Schmitz slides bar-code: BM000657322 to BM000657324, BM000657326, BM000657327, BM000657627 and BM000657628) of Askenasy's (1888) original material of Hildenbrandia prototypus var. kerguelensis. She concluded that the material represented a distinct species, H. kerguelensis (Askenasy) Chamberlain.

The Schmitz collection contains 10 slides (bar-code: BM000657501 to BM000657510) of Cruoria arctica Schmitz in Rosenvinge (1893), several of which are of the type material from Proven, Greenland collected by Rosenvinge on 21 July 1886. After examining these slides, South et al. (1972) equated the type material with the encrusting stage of Turnerella pennyi (Harvey) Schmitz, which they had found in Labrador.

Woelkerling and Irvine (1982) considered the vexed question of the taxonomic placement of the genus Schmitziella Batters. The original account by Batters (1892) described both bisporangia and tetrasporangia but Batters's herbarium material and slides at BM showed only the former. Since Batters noted that he obtained information from both Bornet and Schmitz, Woelkerling and Irvine consulted the Schmitz collection and found tetrasporangia on seven slides (bar-code: BM000657234 to BM000657240). These slides had been prepared by Schmitz in 1891 from Bornet's undated collections from Cherbourg; this was clearly material upon which the genus was founded.

Irvine (1983) compared the genera Plagiospora Kuckuck (1897) with Cruoriopsis L[uigi] Dufour (1864). Schmitz's slide (bar-code: BM000656983) of an isotype of the type species C. crucialis L. Dufour from Cornigliano, Italy, showed regularly cruciately divided tetrasporangia, about 40µm x 20µm. Plagiospora gracilis Kuckuck, the type species, was described as having much smaller (12–17µm x 6–9µm) tetrasporangia, which were obliquely cruciately divided. Irvine concluded, however, that it would be premature to assume the taxonomic validity of these features and suggested that further studies were needed.

Wynne (1995) described a new species of Rodriguezella from the Seychelles. He commented that his new species bore a strong resemblance to syntype material in the Schmitz slide collection (bar-code: BM000653611 and BM000653612) of Chondria hypoglossoides Schmitz (1895), described from Kenya; unfortunately the latter had been based on sterile material.

In a more recent paper by Lin et al. (2001) on Opephyllum martensii Schmitz in Schmitz and Hauptfleisch (1897) the authors designated a neotype based on recently collected topotype material, believing the original material to be no longer extant. Wynne (2002) examined four of the six Schmitz slides (bar-code: BM000653209 to BM000653211 and BM000653213) of “Nitophyllum martensioides” (a manuscript name), all of which are annotated with data that corresponds to the protologue of O. martensii. He concluded that they correspond with the descriptions both in Schmitz and Hauptfleisch (1897) and Lin et al. (2001) and represent the actual holotype, thus superseding the neotype of the later authors.

Preparatory work for the final part of the Rhodophyta volume of Seaweeds of the British Isles (Brodie and Irvine, in press) has relied heavily upon the BM slide collections, especially those made by Batters and Schmitz. One particularly important Schmitz slide (bar-code: BM000650018) is of material sent by Berthold to Schmitz in 1879 and labelled “Erythrotrichia discigera Berthold”. This species, originally described by Berthold (1882a and 1882b), was transferred to the new genus Erythropeltis by Schmitz (1896). Unfortunately, the slide material is not concordant with the description given by Berthold; this explains the confusion in the literature regarding the concept of the genus Erythropeltis Schmitz, which was obviously based on this slide material. The conclusion that Schmitz's concept of E. discigera differed from that of Berthold was reached by Batters (1900) and confirmed by Howe (1914) on the basis of an examination of Schmitz's slide by A. E. Gepp, BM phycologist at the time. Brodie and Irvine regard the material on this slide as referable to Sahlingia subintegra (Rosenvinge) Kornmann (Fig. 3).

The above examples show that the Schmitz slide collection has already provided useful taxonomic information on a wide range of genera and species of Rhodophyta originally described by a number of authors as well as Schmitz himself. There is clearly considerable scope for their use in the future. A glance at the data reveals collections made by Becker, Grunow, Harvey, Hohenacker, Kjellman, Meneghini, Pappe, Preiss, Reinbold, and Suhr, among others, and from places as far apart as Japan, Chile, Borneo, and Greenland. The major European herbaria are represented as well as material from those further afield, such as Melbourne and St Petersburg.

Description of the collection

Each slide is 47 by 27 mm with two labels on card (approximately 1 mm thick), one on either side of the cover slip (Fig. 4). They are stored horizontally in a custom-made cabinet, each tray of which holds 80 slides (8 rows of 10). Some material appears to be fixed in Osmium Tetroxide and the mounting medium appears to be water-based (possibly gelatine or Pictet's Liquid; see Lee 1900) and the ringing compounds are most likely gelatine, as an inner ring, with a bitumen-based cement (black) and possibly Apáthy's cement (white) outer sealant (Paul Brown and Simon Moore, pers. comm., 2002). The techniques and materials used have stood the test of time well as most slides are still in reasonable to good condition, although a few have dried out through cracking and flaking of the sealant. Some type material has been remounted in glycerin jelly, including Askenasy's Hildenbrandia prototypus var. kerguelensis (bar-code: BM000657627, BM000657628, BM000657327).

The data accompanying each slide are hand-written and reflect the history of the collection, the earliest being contemporary with its creation between 1879 and 1895 and the most recent being the addition of a bar-code and pencilled location number to facilitate data-entry into an MS Access 97 database, a task which was carried out between 1997 and 2001. There is also an enumeration, written in ink in the 1950's, which links each taxon to consecutive numbering that had been added to the copy of Engler and Prantl (1896 and 1897) held in the Botany Library of the Natural History Museum (BM) to enable herbarium material to be arranged systematically.

The interpretation of the original label data can be difficult as the handwriting is in late nineteenth century German script with confusing capital letters (Fig. 4). We are very grateful to Regine Jahn who furnished us with a guide to this script and deciphered most of those labels that continued to defeat us. Despite Anglo-German cooperation some words still remain illegible!

The lower label contains most data, including taxon name, locality (in the language of the country of origin or the German equivalent), collector and occasionally a date of collection, collector's number and species authority. The name of whoever sent the material is often added here (indicated by “dd” for dedit) and the herbarium source (the latter often written illegibly). Fertility of the sample is sometimes indicated as “4sp” for tetrasporic, or “fr” for fructification. The upper label usually has a date of preparation as month and year and the taxon enumeration in the form of the genus number, as listed in the Natural History Museum's copy of Engler and Prantl (1896 and 1897), with a suffix letter being the initial of the specific epithet. The pencilled location numbers are usually on the upper label and run consecutively indicating the position of the slide within the collection.

Other original data (often descriptive notes and staining methods written in German) have been added where space allowed. The bar-code labels are on the backs of the slides; these numbers are unique accession (BM) numbers. All this information was entered into a database using student volunteers. At the time of writing, it is undergoing correction and revision by the present authors (currently assisted by two volunteers) who are checking the data for consistency and adding basionyms as well as current names, where appropriate. The volunteers have scanned slides from the collection in batches of ten, using an A3 flat-bed scanner, each slide being selected as a typical example of the taxa represented. It is hoped that the data and images of over 6000 slides, with accompanying notes, will be available via the Museumís website in 2003.


One of us (LMI) first met Dr Paul Silva 50 years ago in Michigan when she was on leave from the Natural History Museum (BM), studying with William Randolph Taylor. As a result of this meeting, she returned five years later to Illinois where her husband, David, worked for two years with Dr Silva on a pilot project for the Index Nominum Algarum. Since then Dr Silva has visited the Museum a number of times, making good use of our herbarium and library resources for his valuable taxonomic and nomenclatural research. We do not know whether he had occasion to use the Schmitz slides, but we are sure he will be pleased that we have taken this opportunity to make the collection more widely known. It gives us great pleasure to contribute to this volume and to thank him for his help to us personally over the years and for his lifetime of dedication to phycology. In particular, our daily use of Silva, Basson and Moe (1996) reminds us (in the most rewarding way possible) of his contribution to our phycological well-being.


We thank Regine Jahn (Botanical Garden and Museum, Berlin-Dahlem, Germany) for help in deciphering the label data and contacting the curators at Greifswald on our behalf, and Michael Wynne (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA), whose enthusiasm for the Schmitz slide collection triggered the idea of writing this paper.

We are very grateful to the following work experience student volunteers who carried out data entry for the Schmitz slide collection data set: Marlene Denisiuk, James Jansen, Vicki Noble, Yee-Lin Tan and Berthe Walbers; and to Alexandra Magin and Lucy Deady for their invaluable assistance in revision of the data-set and for initiating the slide scanning project.

Thanks are also due to Universitätsarchiv Greifswald (UAG), Fotosammlung, Greifswald, Germany, for fig. 1, Peter York (Natural History Museum, London, UK) for fig. 3, and to Paul Brown (Natural History Museum, London, UK) and Simon Moore (Hampshire County Museum Service, Winchester, UK) for their comments on the materials used in nineteenth century microscopy in relation to the Schmitz slides.


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Typification of the name Opephyllum martensii Schmitz (Delesseriaceae, Rhodophyta). Taxon 51: 553–555.


Fig. 1. Portrait of Friedrich Schmitz (age unknown). Courtesy of Universitätsarchiv Greifswald (UAG), Fotosammlung.

Fig. 2. The Schmitz slide cabinet with three slide trays extended.

Fig. 3. Micrograph of Erythrotrichia discigera Berthold [Schmitz bar-code: BM000650018]. Photograph by Peter York.

Fig. 4. Two slides from the Schmitz collection.

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