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The Open Herbarium - Mission


The Open Herbarium will provide anyone, anywhere with rapid access to reliable, research-quality information about plant taxa in a manner that is both informative and attractive. It will accomplish this by linking together, via the World Wide Web or similar distributed system, resources that provide the following:

  • Morphological information for verifying identifications with confidence
  • Nomenclatural information for browsing, searching and interpreting information in the Open Herbarium
  • Tools for synthesizing and analyzing specimen information from many herbaria
  • Information about preparation of specimens

Information about the proposed principles, contents, and organizational structure (including members' responsibilities) of the Open Herbarium follows.


  1. Information in the Open Herbarium must be authoritative and documented, and therefore,
    • all images must be documented by herbarium specimens
    • contributors and reviewers of information will be identified
    • all sources of information will be credited by appropriate citation.
  2. Contributors of information to the Open Herbarium will retain ownership of that information.
  3. Development of the Open Herbarium shall be guided by an elected advisory board.
  4. The Open Herbarium organization will facilitate and encourage herbaria and other organizations to participation in the Open Herbarium. It will not be a funding agency.
  5. The Open Herbarium organization will acquire or develop the software necessary for its sustained, long-term operation.
  6. Material in the Open Herbarium not otherwise copyrighted will be copyrighted to the Open Herbarium, but may be used free of charge on a non-profit basis so long as the authorship and source is appropriately cited. Links to resources with more restrictive copyrights will be identified as such.
  7. The Open Herbarium shall not constrain the activities of any individual or herbarium.


Morphological information will be presented in via images and text. High resolution images of living plants will be used to show all the morphological features considered by taxonomic specialists to be critical to accurate identification. These images will include some that show standard features, others that focus on the features that distinguish the taxon from its relatives, and some that show unique or interesting features of the taxon concerned.

To maintain the functionality of this aspect of the Open Herbarium, the number of images used to represent an individual taxon will be limited. When selection becomes necessary, the criteria used will be 1) clarity and 2) artistic quality. To ensure the long-term value of these images and the credibility of the Open Herbarium, the images must be documented by a herbarium specimen deposited in an institutional herbarium that makes loans. The herbarium code and accession number of the specimen will be linked to the image.

The images will be supplemented by, and linked to, written information. The written information will include both material written for professional taxonomists and material designed for non-botanists. It will include descriptions of the taxa, discussions of their variability and, if known, the causes of this variability. Additional information may be included, at the discretion of the contributor and reviewers. The authors and reviewers of all written material will be identified.

Providing identification keys is not a primary goal of the Open Herbarium, but links to such keys, possibly keys written for a particular region, will be provided if requested by the author(s) concerned. There will be no restriction on the format of identification keys.

Specimen Information will be made available in two formats, a distributed database and via digital images. The primary focus will be on the distributed database as this will facilitate synthesis and analysis of specimen data. The distributed database will be designed to work with, and obtain the maximum possible benefit from, existing databases. The owners of such databases may choose how to make them available, but will be encouraged to make them available as a dynamic database on their own server.

For institutions without an existing database, a database system will be developed. This new system will be based on a commercial database package so that institutions using it will be able to modify it as their needs dictate and resources permit without recourse to the Open Herbarium. It will be designed to comply with the standards set by the Taxonomic Database Working Group to the extent that these are compatible with the constraints under which small herbaria operate.

Institutions with digital images of their specimens will be encouraged to "deposit" these specimens in the Open Herbarium by permitting links to be made to them, but digitization of individual specimens will not be a high priority for the Open Herbarium because it does not permit synthesis of specimen data.

Nomenclatural Information. Obtaining and interpreting information from herbaria, whether virtual or real, requires understanding the different ways in which scientific names have been interpreted. The Open Herbarium will inform visitors if there is taxonomic disagreement concerning a name and its implications for the interpretation of data within the Open Herbarium. It will not attempt to resolve taxonomic disputes, but will explain why taxonomists disagree over the interpretation and which interpretation is adopted in major floras. If a mandatory name change has occurred, this will be stated, together with the reason why it has to be made.

Because the Open Herbarium is "open" to the public, these explanations will be reviewed for accuracy, clarity, and civility. If appropriate contributors can be found, taxonomists with differing opinions on the treatment of a group will be invited to present the arguments for their treatment.

To encourage non-botanists, provision will be made for accessing information in the Open Herbarium via "common" names. Such names will be obtained from regional floras and horticultural works, as appropriate. Visitors will be alerted to the problems arising from differing uses of a name and the hazards of relying on common names.


The Open Herbarium will develop most effectively, and rapidly, as a voluntary, collaborative endeavor. The following organization is suggested as a means of ensuring that it develops in such a manner:

  • Initial organization should be at the regional level
  • Development of the Open Herbarium will be guided by an elected Advisory Board that represents the different interests of the membership
  • Membership should open to all, professional and amateur botanists, small and large institutions.
  • A small annual fee will be charged for registered members. Registered members will receive any mailings that are sent out and be eligible to vote for the members of the executive board.
  • Routine operation and development of the Open Herbarium will be conducted by a small executive committee appointed by the Advisory Board. The executive committee will appoint subcommittees as needed to compete particular tasks.
  • Regular communication will be via newsgroups, Email, and videoconferencing
  • Regular workshops and meetings will be held to describe progress, receive feedback, and discuss priorities for immediate and intermediate future
  • Access to the Open Herbarium will be open to all, members and non-members

Responsibilities of Members

  • Active members are critical to the success of the Open Herbarium. They can contribute by :
  • Using the Open Herbarium and providing feedback to its contributors and organizers
  • Providing documented images of individual taxa
  • Providing textual material
  • Supporting the efforts of individual herbaria in databasing their collections
  • Sending living material of individual taxa to individuals with good imaging facilities
  • Enhancing distributional information by preparing well-documented specimens and depositing them in a local herbarium

Encouraging use of the Open Herbarium by others