Plants have an enormous impact on our lives. In addition to providing virtually all food energy for the biological world through photosynthesis, plants are important sources of drugs, building materials, and fibers for manufacture of paper. Many plants have aesthetic value as ornamentals and, thus, improve the quality of our lives. Weeds and poisonous plants affect us negatively. Herbarium collections are central in providing the basis for our understanding of biodiversity. They document the flora of a region and provide crucial data on the variation and distribution of particular plant groups.
The Valdosta State University Herbarium emphasizes the flora of the Georgia coastal plain as well as specific plant groups: namely, ferns, grasses, and sedges. It was founded as a research facility in 1967 by Wayne R. Faircloth, and his voucher specimens primarily from central-south Georgia provide the nucleus of the collection. The herbarium also includes significant collections by H.E. Ahles, C.T. Bryson, R. Carter, W. Duncan, R.K. Godfrey, R. Kral, R.K. Lampton (bryophytes and lichens), S.T. McDaniel, R.L. Mears, A.E. Radford, and R.D. Thomas. Specimens housed in the herbarium provide documentation about the distributions of native and naturalized plants from our region, including data on rare, threatened and endangered species and weeds or other kinds of plants of actual or potential economic importance. Additionally, data about morphological and phenological variation in species may be obtained from these specimens, which are useful in preparing technical descriptions of plants. Such descriptions are used to identify plants, and the actual specimen may also be used to confirm identifications. Herbarium specimens are also frequently employed to supplement teaching in a variety of courses at Valdosta State.
Furthermore, the DNA within the preserved cells of the herbarium specimen can theoretically be isolated and manipulated to re-create a whole organism. Thus, the herbarium is potentially a major storehouse of genetic diversity. If humans continue to destroy the environment and cause wholesale extinction of species "in the wild", then the herbarium might someday represent our only chance of recovering germplasm from extinct species. Although this might seem little more than science fiction, if current trends continue it could easily become reality.
Each herbarium specimen is labeled with specific data documenting location and date of the collection and observations about its habitat and general characteristics; thus, the herbarium is essentially a database of information on distribution, habitat, phenology, and morphological variation of plants within our region. Since the Valdosta State University Herbarium emphasizes the flora of the Georgia coastal plain, it can provide much useful information about historical and present distribution, phenology, and variation of plant species within our region.