The Vascular Plant Herbarium of The New York Botanical Garden is one of the most extensive, important, and
frequently cited and consulted herbaria in the world. Founded around a core of the Columbia College (now
Columbia University) Herbarium in 1891, the Herbarium has grown to become the largest such collection in the
Western Hemisphere, and one of the largest in the world, with approximately 7.8 million specimens.
Long-running strengths of the Herbarium focus on the plants and regions of the New World, particularly the Amazonian Basin, the Atlantic Forest/Mata Atlântica, the Caribbean Basin, Eastern North America, The Guiana Highlands, and The Intermountain West of North America. Recently, additional areas of interest have increased the depth and breadth of plant collections from the Northern Andes, Oceania, and Southeast Asia. Within these broad regions, the systematic interests of past and current curators have lead many families to be especially well-represented, comprehensive, and authoritatively-curated, including Asteraceae, Burseraceae, Cactaceae, Clusiaceae, Cyperaceae, Neotropical Ericaceae, Fabaceae s.l., Lecythidaceae, Melastomataceae, Rubiaceae, Scrophulariaceae s.l., Solanaceae, conifers, and Neotropical Ferns and Lycophytes. The Herbarium is also particularly rich in vascular plant type specimens (specimens used to name a new species), with more than 95,000 specimens, making the Herbarium an unparalleled resource for plant systematics and taxonomy.
For a review of the Herbarium's history up to 1996, please see Holmgren et al. 1996. Since the mid-1990's, the Herbarium has continued to grow through the fieldwork of Garden curators, the inclusion of orphaned herbaria, and exchanges with herbaria from around the world. In any given year, ca. 30,000 - 40,000 newly mounted specimens are added to the collection.
In 2000, the Herbarium moved into the newly built International Plant Science Center, directly behind the old herbarium and library building. This much needed move allowed for better curation and conservation of the specimens, as well as providing room for visiting researchers and the continued expansion of the collection. Funding was generously provided by the United States Congress –with leadership from Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Alfonse M. D'Amato –through the United States Department of Agriculture; the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust; Edward P. Bass of the Philecology Trust; Shelby White and Leon Levy; Arthur and Janet Ross; The Starr Foundation; the National Science Foundation (DEB-9710105; supplement to DBI-9808824); The Prospect Hill Foundation; The Bank of New York; J. P. Morgan and Co., Incorporated; New York City; and New York State.
Ongoing efforts of the Herbarium include the digitization and imaging of its collections, freely available on The C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium. Supported by a dozen NSF grants, these projects have focused on some the greatest strengths of our collection, including geographic regions (e.g., Brazil, the Intermountain West), plant groups (e.g., Caribbean orchids, Melastomataceae), as well as type specimens.
Continued research within the Herbarium continues to build upon its historic strengths, constantly improving and expanding our systematic knowledge of the Plant Kingdom, and informing conservation efforts around the globe.