Herbarium - Plant Explorers


One of the activites of this herbarium has always been to document germplasm (living plant material for cultivation, evaluation, breeding, and possible use) brought to the United States by USDA and non-USDA plant explorers as a permanent legacy of their work and the history and development of American Agriculture.

Since an herbarium specimen consists of the actual plants themselves, stored so that much of the original form and structure of the plant is permanently preserved, herbarium specimens are by far the most detailed and reliable record of plant material grown or collected in the past. Our extensive collections of important breeding and germplasm material from more than a century of agricultural work makes the U.S. National Arboretum Herbarium a unique and valuable resource documenting the history of American agriculture and botanical research.

These collections from around the world are a permanent reference of the very plants collected by plant explorers and collectors and, as such, are a priceless document which offers a record unlike any other.

Why search the world for plants?

An increasing population, a new or sudden occurrence of a crop disease or the arrival of a new insect are a few reasons to continue the search for new plant material and new genotypes of familiar, widely used plants. As an example, in 1898, experts were predicting food shortages and famine because increases in the population would overtake our ability to grow sufficient wheat by 1931. Five years after this announcement, the U.S. production of wheat went from 60,000 to 20 million bushels a year, due in part to the efforts of USDA explorer Mark Carelton. He brought back, from his plant exploration trip to Russia, new drought tolerant and better tasting varieties of wheat that opened the Great Plains and the Northwest for wheat growing. It would later be remarked that, "We have forgotten how poor our bread was at the time of Carleton's trip to Russia. In truth, we were eating an almost tasteless product, ignorant of the fact that most of Europe had a better flavored bread with far higher nutritional qualities than ours."

The National Arboretum has collections from many USDA explorers, (please see our short descriptions of several of these Plant Explorers), including N.E. Hanson and Mark Carleton (Russia), W.T. Swingle (worldwide), J.N. Rose (Mexico), David Fairchild (tropics), F.N. Meyer (China, Turkestan and the Far East), R. M. Jefferson (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan), P.H. Dorsett (China and Japan), Wilson Popenoe (Latin America), D.S. Correll (Latin America), W. Koelz (Iran, Afghanistan and India), H.S. Gentry (Mexico and the Middle East), W.A. Archer (cultivated), O.M. Freeman (mid- atlantic U.S.), J.L. Creech (Japan, Russia, Taiwan, and Nepal), T.R. Dudley (China and Peru) F.G. Meyer (Europe, Ethiopia, Japan and the southeastern U.S.), B. Yinger (South Korea), S.G. March (Japan, Korea and England), T.S. Elias (the former Soviet Union, Mexico and South Africa), A.T. Whittemore (Russia, Armenia), E. Garvey (China and Mexico), C. Sperling (worldwide) and K. Conrad (China).

With the acquisition of the 19th century herbarium of Isaac C. Martindale, we added historic collections of over 900 plant explorers such as C. and R.M. Austin, M.E. Bebb, H.N. Bolander, William M. Canby, Alvan Chapman, George Englemann, Asa Gray, E.L. Greene, Marcus E. Jones, F. Lindheimer, E.J. Palmer, S.B. Parish, C.F. Parker, C.C. Parvy, Zina Pitcher, C.G. Pringle, J.H. Redfield, J. Reverchon, J.T. Rothrock, and Ferdinand Rugel.

Among important collectors are: C.R. Ball, D.A. Bissett, A.A. Beetle, S.B. Buckley, A. Chase, T.F. Cheeseman, J.W. Chickering, Lincoln Constance, J.M. Coulter, A. Cronquist, A.H. Curtiss, Delize Demaree, A.D.E. Elmer, H.F.A.v. Eggers, J. Ewan, W.J. Eyerdam, J.M. Fogg, F.R. Fosberg, M. Furuse, J.F.A.P. Gaudin, R.N. Goodall, M.L. Grant, C.L. Hitchcock, D. Houghton, J. Howell, T.J. Howell, B.A. Krukoff, B. Maguire, F.A. McClure, Y.E.J. Mexia, A. Rehder, J. Rock, C.S. Sargent, Ca. Schneider, J.A. Steyermark, R.R. Stewart, W.N. Suksdorf, I. Tidestrom, G. Vasey, R. McVaugh, E.T. Wherry, E.H. Wilson, F. Wolf and Otto Zollner.

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Last Updated   June 28, 2004 5:39 PM
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