Herbarium Collections (Types, General and Reference)

Thu Dec 21 11:37:12 CST 1995

>From Steve Boyd (in part):
>Bryan Simon wrote regarding 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

>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:...  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 regions.

>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  Maintaining outdated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

Within the last four years we rearranged the holdings of the Ada
Hayden Herbarium (Iowa State University).  Our first questions
concerned who would be the primary users of the collection?  What
kind of a background/knowledge of taxonomy do they have?  We
realized that the "lowest" groups which many users could
reasonably recognize on sight would be: fungi, algae, bryophytes,
pteridophytes, gymnosperms, monocots and dicots.  Within each of
these groups we use an alphabetic system, and in the vascular
plants it's much as that described by Steve Boyd (with fewer
geographic regions).  As a land-grant university, our users range
from students and staff to the "public", with an equally wide
range of taxonomic knowledge.  In fact, my own weak knowledge of
cryptogamic groups contributed to our filing fungi and bryophytes
alphabetically strictly by genus and species.  As Steve Boyd
suggested, keep/make your system as utilitarian as possible!

Another question we were forced to consider - especially with
recent major changes in angiosperm taxonomy based on cladistic
analyses - whose system do you follow?  This becomes more
critical in an alphabetic than a "systematic" system, e.g.,
maples in the latter system would at least be near the
Sapindaceae, but in an alphabetic system should they be filed as
Aceraceae or Sapindaceae?  We used LOTS of "drop-tags" (e.g.,
ACERACEAE, see SAPINDACEAE) to ease frustration from our
resulting system which incorporated quite a few of these new
(cladistic) changes.  Also, some of our senior taxonomists were
reluctant to give up the alternative family names - Compositae,
Cruciferae, etc. (our traditional strengths being grasses and
legumes, this would have had particular repercussions except that
these two families are "pulled out" from the general collection -
and the cabinets still labeled GRAMINEAE and LEGUMINOSAE).

Rearranging the collection within current (and limited) space was
yet another challenge, but it sounds as though that will not be a
problem in the Queensland Herbarium as you move into new

In addition to the sequence being utilitarian, a few other
questions that should be considered when rearranging the
herbarium include:
1) Does the placement of major collections maximize use of space?
Is accessibility maximized (esp. for those parts of the
collection most frequently used)?
2) Does it best allow flexibility for future growth?
3) How can specimens physically be moved most efficiently?  Will
"interim" storage space be needed?  How many staff can be
involved without causing confusion?  (We used lots of temporary
"drop-tags" to keep track of how far we'd gotten, where we'd
temporarily stored specimens, etc.)  Again this may be easier
moving into new quarters.
4) Is this also an appropriate time to correct the inevitable
misfilings, names now in synonymy, replace worn folders, etc.?
If so, what is the most efficient approach?  Are sufficient
supplies on hand?

Bryan Simon also states:
>The types are placed at the end of each family, but we have
>plans to isolate these in a separate fire-proof room in the new

We keep our types isolated in separate cabinets for the same
reasons Mike Vincent mentioned in another recent posting:
protecting them from routine herbarium use by students, non-
departmental staff, etc., interested in id, species
distributions, etc.

And that's my two cents worth...

Happy Holidays!

Deb Lewis
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Deborah Q. Lewis, Curator
Ada Hayden Herbarium
Department of Botany
Iowa State University
Ames, IA   50011-1020, U.S.A.
Ph. [1] 515/294-9499; FAX [1] 515/294-1337
E-mail: dlewis at iastate.edu (or s1.daq at isumvs.iastate.edu)

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