WHAT IS A HERBARIUM?

A herbarium is a collection of plant specimens, carefully collected, pressed and dried, that is arranged according to an accepted system of classification and made available for reference or various other scientific purposes. Most herbaria mount each specimen, together with a label bearing pertinent habitat and geographic data, on a sheet of high-quality paper and then file it into steel storage cabinets that are both fire and insect proof. Well-kept specimens will remain useful hundreds of years. In a very real sense, herbaria function as giant card catalogues and nature libraries that permanently store samples of plant species that have been gathered continually for centuries by taxonomists in their quest to identify, name and classify all the plants on the face of the earth. Thus, herbaria are priceless storehouses of information, indispensable to an understanding of the earth's biodiversity.

The Wisconsin State Herbarium fulfills all of these functions. Bearing in mind its continuous use as a reference collection for making and verifying identifications, we have enlisted hundreds of taxonomic specialists the world over to obtain authoritative determinations for our specimens. The Herbarium also functions as a depository for specimens that document research projects carried out by the staff and students of the UW-Madison and other state agencies, such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The specimens of the UW Herbarium are used extensively in the training of advanced undergraduates and graduate students in systematics, ecology, and related fields. The importance of the UW-Madison Herbarium to the State of Wisconsin was recognized in 1995 when it was designated officially as the "Wisconsin State Herbarium" by the WI Legislature (1995SB160) and then Governor T. Thompson.

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Click here to take a virtual tour of a herbarium specimen