Online Herbaria

One of the exciting aspects of the Herbarium World today involves efforts to put information about collections online, so that specimens can be accessed by anyone, anywhere.  This is important for botanists who can now study plant specimens without traveling extensively to visit herbaria or borrow specimens, that requires a great deal of work by the lender and the borrower,  with the risk that items can be lost in transport.  For the past ten years, the National Science Foundation has funded projects to digitize the data on specimen labels and also photograph the specimens.  There is now a website called iDigBio where not only natural history collections of many kinds are available to all.

Dawn Craft imaging specimen with Dr. Katharine Gregg at the Rossbach Herbarium at West Virgina Wesleyan University

Since this is such a massive project, with millions of specimens still to be processed, there are efforts around the world to enlist the public in the digitization work.  If you would like to get involved in transcribing data from specimen labels , there are a number of online projects.  You can stay at home and still be helpful in documenting the diversity of life on earth through Citizen Science.  There are several sites that can point you to specific projects:

  • Notes from Nature is a hub for transcription projects, many involving plants.
  • The Atlas of Living Australia has a project called DigiVol where volunteers can provide online assistance for biodiversity projects.
  • Herbaria@home is a British project for digitizing the information on herbarium sheets.
  • Les Herbonautes (translates as The Herbalists) is a similar project sponsored by the National Museum of Natural History herbarium in Paris.
  • In another approach, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh has project that links herbarium specimens to observations on living plants recorded with the iNaturalist app.