The Herbarium

Valdosta State University (VSC)

Documenting biodiversity in the coastal plain region of Georgia
Liriodendron tulipifera (Magnoliaceae) - tulip poplar Agalinis purpurea (Scrophulariaceae s.l.) - purple false foxglove Habenaria nivea (Orchidaceae) - snowy orchid Schwalbea americana (Scrophulariaceae s.l.) - chaffseed Ctenium aromaticum (Poaceae) - toothache grass Cirsium horridulum (Asteraceae) - purple thistle
 

What is an herbarium?

What is the purpose of the herbarium?

Who uses the herbarium?

How long will herbarium specimens last?

How large is the herbarium?

Who cares for the herbarium?

What should I do with an unknown specimen?

Mission Statement

Looking toward the future

Loan Policies

Hours of Operation

Contact Information

General References

Related Web Sites


What is an herbarium?

The herbarium is a collection of dried plant specimens. Normally, the specimen includes reproductive parts such as flowers or fruits, which are often necessary for positive identification. Data (information) describing the collection site (i.e., country, state, county and specific location) and habitat, the date of collection, the name and serial collection number of collector, as well as other pertinent facts such as plant habit or flower color are recorded in a field notebook at the time of collection. This information is later transcribed onto a permanent specimen label that is mounted on the herbarium sheet with the specimen.

In the case of small herbaceous plants, the entire plant may be preserved. For obvious reasons, only representative portions of larger plants such as trees and shrubs are used. In order to prepare an herbarium specimen, the fresh plant specimen is placed in folded newspaper, flattened in a plant press, and then dried with warm air. Once dried, specimens are identified, sorted, labeled, mounted onto stiff sheets of high-quality paper, re-sorted systematically, and filed for storage in steel herbarium cases. Herbarium specimens will last indefinitely if properly prepared and cared for; the major hazards to be avoided are insects and water. Insect pests are controlled by freezing specimens and placing insect repellant in herbarium cases. In order to prevent infestations of damaging insect and fungal pests, climate in the herbarium should be hostile to such organisms. Thus, temperature should be maintained below 21 degrees C and the relative humidity between 30--40 percent.

An overview of the Valdosta State University Herbarium in PowerPoint

What is the purpose of the herbarium?

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.

Who uses the herbarium?

Just as uses of the herbarium vary greatly, users of the Valdosta State University Herbarium are highly variable. The primary purpose of this collection is to document the flora of the Georgia coastal plain. Specimen loans are sent out by mail to specialists doing taxonomic research. The specimens are used by these researchers to document distribution and morphological variation of the species under study. Also, researchers or others who have questions about plants in our region may visit the herbarium to examine and work with the preserved specimens.

Botanists with the Natural Heritage Program of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service use herbarium specimens as sources of data to document the distributions of rare, threatened and endangered species, and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel use specimen data to track noxious weeds in their weed regulation and control programs.  Additionally, as a public service, the herbarium curator routinely identifies plants for weed scientists at University of Georgia (Griffin, Tifton and Athens campuses), wildlife managers with Georgia Department of Natural Resources, students, local schools, and the general public.

How long will herbarium specimens last?

The earliest herbaria were portable, and consisted of dried plant specimens attached to sheets of paper bound into large volumes. These early herbaria were used as references by physicians who prepared many of their medicines directly from plants. If properly prepared and cared for, herbarium specimens can last for hundreds of years. Click here to view an image of a specimen collected more than 175 years ago by William Baldwin near St. Marys, Georgia. This specimen is preserved in the herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The oldest herbarium in the world is more than 425 years old! It is located in Kassel, Germany, and was founded in 1569. A few specimens in the Valdosta State University Herbarium are more than 150 years old.  For comparison, founding dates of selected herbaria are listed in Table 1.

How large is the herbarium?

It has been estimated that more than 300 million specimens are preserved in all of the world's herbaria (Holmgren, Holmgren & Barnett 1990). The largest herbarium in the world is the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France. The largest herbarium in the United States is located at the New York Botanical Garden. Although the Valdosta State University Herbarium is small by comparison with these herbaria, it is the second largest herbarium in Georgia and contains the most extensive collection of Georgia coastal plain plants in the state. The Valdosta State University Herbarium contains more than 60,000 accessions.  Founding dates and sizes of selected herbaria are shown in Table 1.

Who cares for the herbarium?

The person who takes care of the herbarium is called the curator, from the Latin for "one who takes care". In addition to maintaining and adding specimens to the collection, the curator prepares specimens for lending to researchers at other institutions. The curator is also actively involved in a variety of field research projects, mostly documenting plant distributions in the Georgia coastal plain region. These and other research projects involve extensive collection of voucher specimens which are routinely added to the herbarium. The curator of the Valdosta State University Herbarium is Dr. Richard Carter who also teaches in the Biology Department at Valdosta State, and questions about identification and distribution of plants of the Georgia coastal plain may be addressed to him at rcarter@valdosta.edu.

What should I do with an unknown specimen?

Caveat collector!

The plant that was sent with elation
arrived much to my consternation.
What was pressed under foot
is now moldy as soot
and received only great lamentation.

                                    R. Carter

Mission Statement of the Valdosta State University Herbarium

The Valdosta State University Herbarium (VSC) provides a repository for the preservation of voucher specimens that document the flora of the Coastal Plain region of Georgia and specimens from a broader geographical area that might be useful in the study of the flora of this region and that enable specialized research on particular groups of plants carried out by faculty and students in residence at Valdosta State University and by taxonomic specialists at other institutions. VSC also provides specimens for use in teaching, and its staff responds to requests from the general public, natural resource managers, agricultural scientists, and others by providing information about plants and service determinations of unknown plants and, where appropriate, preserving vouchers relating to such.

 

Looking toward the future

Presently about 2,000 new specimens are being added to the Valdosta State University Herbarium each year. At this rate of growth the herbarium should consist of more than 90,000 specimens by the year 2020. One long term research objective of the Curator is to write a manual with identification keys, descriptions, and distribution maps of all indigenous or naturalized plants in the Georgia coastal plain. In addition to increasing knowledge of plants in our region, such a book would be of use to a variety of people including foresters, natural resource managers, agricultural researchers, environmental scientists, botanists, teachers, students, and the general public. Such a book is based upon an examination of many herbarium specimens. Most present field research conducted from the Valdosta State University Herbarium is designed to increase our knowledge about poorly known parts of the coastal plain region or about poorly known plant groups, by providing voucher specimens for study.  In January 2001, the Valdosta State University Herbarium was moved into a new building providing a safe, healthy, and pest-free environment for the botanical collections.

Loan Policies

VSC is a unit of the Biology Department of Valdosta State University.  Specimen loans are routinely made to herbaria officially recognized by Index Herbariorum (cf. Holmgren et al. 1990; Holmgren and Holmgren 1998), and all loan requests are made in writing to the curator.  Loans are normally made for a period of one year, but requests for extensions beyond that period will be considered.  Specimens should be stored in standard herbarium cabinets and handled with care.  Judicious and non-destructive dissection is allowed, but all fragments should be placed in archival quality fragment packets affixed to the herbarium sheet.  Special permission should be obtained from the curator for destructive analysis of specimens (e.g., SEM, DNA, palynological, anatomical studies).  All borrowed specimens should be clearly annotated using archival quality labels, and specimens should normally be returned in the original packaging.  All Valdosta State University Herbarium specimens should be cited “VSC” in publications, and reprints of articles citing VSC specimens would be appreciated.

Hours of operation

The normal hours of operation are 8:00 - 5:00 PM Monday through Friday when the University is in session. The curator's schedule includes teaching various biology courses and field-based research; therefore, visitors are advised to arrange use of the herbarium by contacting the curator well in advance of visiting. This is especially important during summer session.

Directions to the herbarium

Contact information - Director and Curator

Dr. Richard Carter
Herbarium
Biology Department
2035 Bailey Science Center
Valdosta State University
1500 North Patterson Street
Valdosta, GA  31698-0015
Telephone - (229) 333-5763, ext. 5338
rcarter@valdosta.edu

General references
  • Altschul, S. von R. 1977. Exploring the herbarium. Scientific American 236: 96--104.

  • Gibbons, B. 1990. The plant hunters: a portrait of the Missouri Botanical Garden. National Geographic 178: 125--140.

  • Holmgren, P. K., and N. H. Holmgren. 1998 [continuously updated]. Index Herbariorum: A global directory of public herbaria and associated staff. New York Botanical Garden's Virtual Herbarium. http://sweetgum.nybg.org/ih/

  • Holmgren, P.K., N.H. Holmgren and Lisa C. Barnett. 1990. Index herbariorum. New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, New York.

  • Tozer, E. 1986. Growing a new world in New York's garden. Exxon USA 25: 26--31.

  • Watkins, T.H. 1996. Sir Joseph Banks: the greening of the empire. National Geographic 190: 28--53.

Related web sites

last updated 03.17.2009