October 21, 2008

Missouri Botanical Garden Sets a Record

The 149-year-old Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, one of the world's largest botanical collections, has received its 6 millionth herbarium specimen.

A herbarium is essentially a "library" of plant specimens. The garden's herbarium includes about 5.5 million vascular plants -- flowering plants, ferns and conifers -- and 500,000 bryophytes, mosses, liverworts and hornworts.

"The importance of these 'libraries' of plants cannot be overstated," said the garden's vice president of Science and Conservation, Robert Magill.

"Herbaria are vital resources that allow botanists to organize information about this enormous diversity of plant life. Without a system of documentation that includes actual samples of the plants, it would be nearly impossible to make conclusions about the roles and relationships of plants, or to even verify the discovery of a species new to science," said Magill.

James Solomon, the herbarium's curator, added: "A fundamental part of our mission is to characterize, describe and name the patterns of diversity found in the plant world. In order to find medicines or sustainably manage lands, you have to be able to recognize and know the species involved.

"Our work is helping to synthesize knowledge from around the globe to make this possible."