US National Arboretum Herbarium

The vascular plant herbarium of the U.S. National Arboretum was established around 1900 as the Economic Botany Herbarium of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was established by Frederick V. Coville, who later supervised the establishment of the U.S. National Arboretum. In 1951, the herbarium officially became part of the Arboretum, and moved to its present quarters in the Administration Building in 1964. Since moving to its present location, the herbarium has more than doubled in size, and we expect its growth to continue.

Image of original herbarium offices

What is an Herbarium?

The U.S. National Arboretum Herbarium is a permanent reference collection of dried plant specimens necessary to taxonomic studies relating to agriculture, medicine, science, and education--fields where documentation and correct identification of plants is essential. This collection serves as a descriptive index for the identification and verification of plants, including material from germplasm sent to this country by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant explorers and others who have scoured the world in search of new and better plants. The herbarium is the official depository for documented specimens of USDA plant introductions, including food, drug, forage, industrial, and forest plants.

Significance of this Herbarium

This herbarium is one of a few in the world with a primary mission of supporting taxonomic research and identification of cultivated plants including cultivars, hybrids, and other elite plant materials of use to man. To facilitate this research, the herbarium includes specimens not only of cultivated plants, but also of their wild progenitors and other relatives. This collection also documents plants growing on the grounds of the National Arboretum as well as plants that have been released from breeding programs at the National Arboretum. Among the 650,000+ specimens in the herbarium are extensive collections of willow (Salix), holly (Ilex), oak (Quercus), daylily (Hemerocallis), cherry (Prunus), daffodil (Narcissus), sedge (Carex), viburnum (Viburnum), and rhododendron (including cultivated Azaleas).

In Appreciation

We note with great appreciation the combined service of over 90 years by these dedicated plantsmen:

image of Meyer, Mazzeo, and Dudley



Under the direction of Dr. Fredrick G. Meyer (far left), the Herbarium doubled in size to approximately 600,000 sheets. Dr. Meyer was instrumental in the purchase of the Isaac C. Martindale Collection. He retired in 1991.

Mr. Peter M. Mazzeo (middle) was the collection manager and resident Fern and Native Plant expert. It was under his direction that a compactor system was introduced which has allowed the Herbarium to continue to expand into the twenty-first century. Peter retired in 1995.

Dr. Ted Dudley (far right), who curated the herbarium after Fred's retirement, was the guiding force behind the Ilex and Viburnum collections which are considered to be among the most complete collections of those genera in the world. Dr. Dudley retired in 1994.

Our Virtual Herbarium Project

It is our intention to electronically capture all of the data associated with each Type Specimen, Horticultural Cultivated Standard, as well as Specimens of Special Interest, to image these specimens, and to put all of this information on the internet. The review process includes comparing label and annotation data on the herbarium sheets with the original publications. Although we have not finished the project we are close and have posted what we have accomplished. You can review the specimens by following the drop-down menu links found on all of these Virtual U.S. National Arboretum Herbarium web pages. If you haven't yet perused our pages - we encourage you to start here.

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Last Updated   March 7, 2005 10:16 AM

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