The Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech serves researchers and scientists across the country, but it is also an important resource for Virginia gardeners and plant lovers!
While herbaria have long served an important role in assisting researchers interested in plant taxonomy, evolution, and ecology, digitization efforts are expanding the reach and utility of herbarium resources to the public by helping plant lovers identify the plants that grow in their local area and by involving the public in plant collection and archiving efforts.
“Digital records make our specimens more accessible to the research community and the public” says Dr. Jordan Metzgar, Massey Herbarium Curator. “We’re still in the process of digitizing our entire collection, but what we have so far digitized is available online through the Southeast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections (SERNEC) website.”
According to Dr. Metzgar, these digital records can be useful (and fun!) for the public in a few ways. Digitized herbarium records can be useful to educators who want to show images of a specific plant or look at all the plants collected in an area for teaching purposes.
Members of the public can also use the SERNEC database to look at the plant specimens collected in their area using the “map search” feature. Plant lovers searching for a specific type of plant to collect or observe in the wild can also look up where specimens were collected (though this information is withheld for endangered plants).
The public can help Massey Herbarium–and learn more about plants in the process–by becoming amateur plant collectors and submitting their own plant specimens.
“It’s fun to submit the first ‘county record’ for a plant that hasn’t been collected from that county before,” says Dr. Metzgar. This process of submitting samples of plants that have not previously been collected in your county serves an especially important purpose for tracking the spread of invasive species.
“If you spot a new invasive or garden escape [a plant growing in the wild that is normally grown in gardens], we’d like to have them.” Says Dr. Metzgar. “It’s nice to have samples of those types of plants because we frequently get requests from the Weed Identification Clinic to help with identification of these things.”
“We’re also especially in need of lichens, we have a lot of vascular plants,” adds Dr. Metzgar.
Plant lovers who think they’ve found an interesting or important specimen to submit can visit Massey Herbarium’s guidelines for submitting samples here: https://www.masseyherbarium.org/submitting-specimens/
In addition to helping the Massey Herbarium by submitting plant samples, interested gardeners and plant lovers can also help the scientific community by volunteering to transcribe plant specimen labels through the Notes from Nature project. This project crowd-sources the time-consuming task of typing label information from photographic images of specimen samples, which is an important part of the digitization process. The Massey Herbarium has used the Notes from Nature platform in its digitization efforts, and will use it again soon for their next round of sample transcription.
The Massey Herbarium was founded in 1927, and is Virginia’s largest herbarium with more than 115,000 specimens of vascular plant, fungi, bryophytes, and lichens. Massey Herbarium collection of dried, archival plant specimens focuses on plants collected in the southeast, with around two-thirds of specimens collected in Virginia.