A herbarium is like a botanical library. It is a collection of dried plant specimens that are each labeled and filed into museum cabinets by some system such as by plant family, genus, and species. Herbaria have been around for hundreds of years and the specimens can last centuries if cared for properly. At SGI’s headquarters at Austin Peay State University resides the Mid-South’s largest herbarium with more than 130,000 specimens. The herbarium has grown from 37,500 specimens in 2010 by almost 100,000 specimens under the leadership of SGI Director and APSU Herbarium Curator, Dr. Dwayne Estes.
There are over 130 other herbaria across the Southeast, with most located at universities or natural history museums.
In the past several years, herbaria in the South have working diligently on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to digitize all of the plant collections from a large portion of the southeastern U.S. This effort is leading to the digitization (imaging and databasing) of more than 4.5 million specimens. SGI estimates that at least 1 million specimens in these herbaria are grassland species.
Once these specimens are digitized, they can be used by many different members of the scientific and conservation communities to address a multitude of questions, from climate change and habitat loss to invasive species ecology, endangered flora, and ethnobotany.
SGI is in need of volunteers to help across the Southeast in volunteer activities. Volunteers who want to help with herbarium efforts can do so in several key ways. Read more below to find out how you can help.