Selby Gardens receives NSF grant

photo courtesy of University of Neuchatel
Dried and pressed specimen of Origanum Vulgare (Oregano)

The grant will contribute to a larger archival project that Selby Gardens is a part of, called the Endless Forms Thematic Collection Network.

Alongside other universities, museums and botanical gardens throughout the United States, Selby Gardens will work to digitize the many thousands of plant specimens found in their collections. The network is a cooperative effort towards a massive digital herbarium, giving the public online access to collections that are otherwise difficult and costly to view, as they are only available to individuals that are able to visit in-person or who manage to get specimens shipped out to them on loan. The project has an overall goal of digitizing more than two million specimens over a three year period.

“We will be able to paint a much more complete picture of plant diversity and distribution,” Bruce Holst, the vice president of botany at Selby Gardens, said. “This project demonstrates the collaborative nature of our work. No one institution can do it all.”

With these digital collections, one can quickly sift through large amounts of data and study changes across entire ecosystems. Digital collections provide researchers with information about individual specimens: scanned images, where and how they were collected, who collected them and when they did it. They also allow researchers to investigate how individual plants function and change over long periods of time within their shared environments. This is especially valuable for research into topics like climate change, as plants that were collected and preserved decades earlier—even a century earlier—can be compared more easily to recent specimens of the same species in the same environments: one might notice differences in flowering times, or that in 1910 a specific crop was often ready for harvest a month earlier than it is now.

“Cataloging and digitizing the vast resources held by the world’s scientific institutions is key to our efforts in conserving plant species in their natural habitats,” Holst said.

 

For the price of admission, $20, one can see the soon-to-be digitized collections housed at Selby Gardens in-person, which are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

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