In 1990, during the development of The New York Botanical Garden’s first Long Range Plan, Science Division staff articulated the need for improved access to computer technology, including a database system for managing specimens and connection to the Internet. A systems plan for computing at NYBG, calling for the establishment of a Computer Services Department with staff in the areas of training, network operations, and program development for Science and Horticulture resulted from this exercise.

In 1993 this new department was created, and work began on development of a specimen database, known as NYpc. In 1994, the LuEster T. Mertz Library launched CATALPA, its on-line catalog. CATALPA was the first on-line catalog of any major botanical library. NYpc, The Garden’s first specimen database software application, became fully operational in 1995. With the addition to the staff of a Database Manager and two full time specimen catalogers, the databasing of herbarium specimens began in earnest.

The first cataloging project was the Vascular Plant Type specimens. In 1996, the first 10,000 type specimen records were published on the Garden’s World Wide Web site. Also in 1996, a second cataloging project was initiated, the American Bryophyte Catalog. The American Bryophyte Catalog was funded by the first of five National Science Foundation grants obtained for specimen cataloging.

By 1998, the total number of specimen records in the NYpc database reached 250,000, and the NYBG web site was upgraded with improved searching of specimen records and simple mapping capabilities. Index Herbariorum, a searchable guide to the herbaria of the world compiled by Drs. Patricia and Noel Holmgren became available on-line at about this time, as did the Index to American Botanical Literature.

The Digital Imaging Center was established in 1998, and an Imaging Coordinator begins to capture images of herbarium specimens to be shared via the World Wide Web. Data transcription for the approximately 90,000 type specimens was completed in January 2001, and became available for searching via the web. The imaging of the vascular plant type specimens was completed in May, 2002.

In January 2004, the approximately 700,000 specimen data records and 90,000 specimen images amassed in the original NYpc software were transferred to a new database platform, KE Software’s KE EMu product.The format for the web searchable data was also updated, with additional search and display capabilities. The new interface for the Virtual Herbarium was phased in between July 2004 and June 2005.

In May 2007, the Virtual Herbarium was renamed the C. V. Starr Virtual Herbarium in honor of Cornelius Vander Starr. C. V. Starr established The Starr Foundation, which has provided several major grants toward endowment and operating support for this important initiative.

Digitization Projects

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.