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 repellent 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 65,000 accessions.
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 Director 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 email@example.com.
Carter, Richard, Charles Bryson, and Stephen Darbyshire. "Preparation and use of voucher specimens for documenting research," Weed Technology, 21, October-December 2007.
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
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
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 USA25: 26–31.
Watkins, T.H. 1996. Sir Joseph Banks: the greening of the empire. National Geographic 190: 28-53.
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.
In 2009 the Valdosta State University Herbarium established a SQL database, with assistance from the VSU Division of Information Technology, and in 2011 obtained support from the National Science Foundation (DBI 1054366, R. Carter PI) that enabled the purchase of imaging and other digitization equipment and the employment of student assistants to begin capturing images and building a database. More than 70,000 specimens have been digitized. In 2012, the Valdosta State University Virtual Herbarium (VSU-VH), a collaborative project between the Herbarium and the VSU Odum Library, was made possible with funding from the Valdosta State University Faculty Research Fund (M. Holt PI, R. Carter Co-I). The VSU-VH serves on-line vascular plant specimen images and data, and images and data from more than 4,000 non-vascular plant specimens are served through the Consortium of North American Bryophyte Herbaria (CNABH) portal.
VSU Virtual Herbarium
Consortium of North American Bryophyte Herbaria
In 2015, the Valdosta State University Herbarium received funding from the National Science Foundation for a three year project, providing support to install a high-density storage system and advance digitization efforts.
In 2011, the Valdosta State University Herbarium received funding from the National Science Foundation for a three year project to digitize the collection. C
All public visitors are welcome. In order to provide guided assistance in using the Herbarium, viewing exhibits or touring the Herbarium, it is necessary to make a reservation in advance by contacting the Curator. Staff assistance is required in order to use the herbarium, and collections are not available for use when the Curator or other staff member is not on present. See Herbarium Guidelines and Regulations for proper specimen handling techniques.
VSC actively promotes scientific use of the collection through loans and exchanges with other institutions. VSC grows through collecting by the Curator and students, active exchange of specimens with other institutions, and donations of plant material by others. VSC actively exchanges unmounted specimens with other institutions. VSC is primarily interested in exchange of specimens from the southeastern United States, particularly the Coastal Plain Region of Georgia and adjacent states. VSC also has excellent representation of certain taxonomic groups and seeks exchange to enhance its holdings in these groups: Cyperaceae, Poaceae, Juncaceae, Xyridaceae, pteridophytes, and bryophytes. Exchange specimens must have properly prepared labels with complete collection data printed on archival paper. All specimens in VSC are the property of Valdosta State University.
Only properly prepared specimens with complete and accurate label data will be accepted for accession into VSC. A proper specimen label normally has the following data elements.
Only specimens collected in compliance with laws and regulations of the country and state of origin will be accepted for acquisition into VSC. It is the responsibility of the collector to secure any required collecting permits.
VSC reserves the right to deaccession specimens that duplicate existing material in VSC or otherwise are not appropriate to retain, i.e., low quality and significance, lack sufficient data to be used scientifically.
VSC collections are available to the scientific community and to the public for research use and as tools for education and cultural enhancement. VSC’s loan policy is designed to allow the use of those specimens, while promoting the security and long-term preservation of the collection.
Specimens are carefully packaged for shipment and are expected to be returned in the same manner.
Specimens on loan must be stored in standard herbarium cabinets, secure from potential water or insect damage.
Specimens on loan must be handled with care at all times.
Loan requests will be accepted only from institutions with a listing in Index Herbariorum. Loans normally are not made to individuals. Use of loan specimens by graduate students must be conducted under the supervision of a major professor. Requests for loans should be made in writing to the Curator of VSC, from the Collections Manager, Curator, or other equivalent individual responsible for the care of specimens at the borrowing institution.
Loans of herbarium specimens from VSC are normally made for a period of two years, with extensions granted by the Curator only upon written request.
All herbarium sheets should be returned with a properly-attached, archival annotation labels bearing the name of the researcher, institution, and date. Annotations should be printed or hand-written and legible. If hand-written, black, permanent ink should be used. Normally, the size of the annotation label should not exceed 1 x 4 ½ inches: Smaller labels are preferred so long as they are neat and legible.
Please cite VSC in any publications resulting from studies of its holdings. Reprints or copies of resulting publications should be sent to the Curator of VSC.
Removal of material from specimens must first be approved by the Curator.
VSC is available for the appropriate use by researchers and the general public at no cost.
Richard Carter, Curator
Valdosta State University Herbarium
Bailey Science Center Rm. 1040
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA. 31698-0015
Telephone: (229) 333-5763 (voice), 333-5338 (herbarium)
Last revised 8/9/2014
The herbarium is a public facility and is open to anyone who is willing to follow herbarium guidelines. We will work with you to get the most out of your visit. 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.
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