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Herbarium (Plant) Collection

Unbeknownst to most folks, Georgia Southern University is home to the third largest herbarium in the state of Georgia, with over 20,000 catalogued plant specimens and another 10,000 waiting to be prepared, identified, and catalogued. Half of the catalogued plants were collected in the state of Georgia, and half of our Georgian specimens were collected in Bulloch County. Our oldest specimens were collected 170 years ago! Perhaps surprisingly, the dried plants that are herbarium specimens often have quite active, lively, and controversial histories, which can be deduced from the numerous stamps and labels that accumulate on specimen sheets. These specimens*, for example, were first collected in Madagascar in 1887 and deposited at the Royal Kew Gardens in London, England, and identified as Colea racemosa. Some 50 years later they were re-identified as C. bakeri, then as C. lutescens, an identification that was itself questioned by former Georgia Southern Herbarium curator Dr. Michelle Zhjra a few years ago. The specimens were recently transferred from Georgia Southern to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, where yet another set of researchers will try to sort out the identity and relationships of this plant and its relatives. The uncertainty surrounding the identity of these specimens reflects more than anything the relentless accumulation of new evidence, requiring continuous re-evaluation of previous interpretations. This is only possible when each generation of researchers can examine the actual material studied by previous generations. Thus, the critical functions of herbaria are to house and protect plant specimens, both old and new, and to facilitate the loan or exchange of specimens among researchers and institutions.


Last updated: 4/20/2021