Herbarium Collections (Types, General and Reference)

Steve Boyd boyds at CGS.EDU
Wed Dec 20 09:09:16 CST 1995

Bryan Simon wrote regrarding reorganizing the Queensland Herbarium into a
new facility....

>At present the flowering plants of the general collection is arranged
>alphabetically as one large collection (monocots and dicots mixed), with the
>gymnosperms, ferns and lower plants being separate.

>We now have the opportunity of starting afresh in the arrangement of the
>collections and we would appreciate input from botanists and herbarium
>curators on the wisdom of continuing with the present system or trying
>something new.  Some staff members are in favour of a systematic arrangement
>for the general herbarium but I personally favour the alphabetic approach
>from the point of view of the ease of putting away the large volume of new
>herbarium into the collection.

Here at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSA-POM) we manage an herbarium
collection of nearly 1 million specimens including over 900,000 traditional
mounted sheets (all vascular plants).  At the highest levels, we segregate
out things like ferns, fern-allies, and gymnosperms by order, and
angiosperms by subclass.  Within these groups, families and genera are
alphabetical.  Within genera we divide the world into 8 color-coded
categories:  California (40% of our holdings; Mexico; other North America
(excluding CA and Mex.); Central and South America (incl. Caribbean basin);
temperate Eurasia; Africa; tropical Asia, Australasia, and Oceania;
cultivated plants, regardless of geographic origin.  Species are filed
alphabetically within each color-coded geographic region.

This arrangement has gone through some tweaking over the years that I have
been here at RSA, but overall, I think it is a workable system for our
collection.  It is easy to file and retrieve specimens, and is especially
helpful when people are interested in specimens from specific geographic

I definitely place my vote for maintaining an alphabetical arrangement of
at least families within class or subclass, genera within families, and
species within genera, or geographic subdivisions of genera.  The filing
system of a herbarium is a storage-retrieval tool, nothing more.
Maintaining outdated phylogenetic arrangements, such as Engler & Prantl
makes no sense to me.  Folks should take note that the system used here at
RSA-POM was largely developed and refined by the well-known angiosperm
phylogenist, and our Curator Emeritus, Dr. Robert F. Thorne.  Bob could
have easily inculcated his phylogenetic system on this herbarium, but he
wisely chose instead to go with a system which better facilitated the
filing and retrieval of specimens.

That's my two cents worth.

Best wishes to all for the coming New Year.


Administrative Curator, RSA-POM
boyds at cgs.edu
1500 North College Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711
(909) 625-8767 ext. 248

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