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The Virtual Herbarium

A summary of the concept from a botanist's point of view

The Virtual Herbarium will be:

  • A research quality herbarium
  • An attractive source of botanical information
  • Accessible to all free of charge

Species images will:

  • Feature living plants
  • Show habitat, habit, and all features uses for identification
  • Be selected for clarity and visual appeal
  • VOUCHERED, to ensure scientific credibility and longevity

Specimen images will be:

  • Scanned from specimens
  • Accessible via herbarium code and
  • accession number
  • collector's name and number
  • taxon name and collector's name
  • type specimens will be "filed" separately

Descriptions will be of two kinds:

  • In plain English, to provide an overall verbal image of the species
  • Technical, providing detailed morphological information

"Plain English" descriptions will be non-technical. Such descriptions are often perfectly adequate. They are also more appealing to amateur botanists, an important concern for the Virtual Herbarium. Technical descriptions are sometimes essential for identifying difficult taxa or fragmentary material.

Information on the natural history or biology of a species will be placed in separate files, accessible from either description (and a multitude of other locations).

Distributional Information:

  • will be obtained by linking data in databases of participating herbaria
  • herbaria may choose to make the information available from their own server or a central server, as a dynamic database, or as a periodically updated database
  • herbaria will retain ownership of their data. This means that only the owning institution can modify data in its database.
  • Initially, the information will be made available as lists that can be selected and ordered by:
  • taxon
  • state/province
  • county
  • primary collector
  • date

In the second phase, summaries of the information will be made available in map format. In the third phase, "data mining" will be enabled.

Links to specimen images will be provided, if such images are available.

Nomenclatural Information

The Virtual Herbarium will provide explanations of differing interpretations of scientific names. These will be written by experts for non-experts. They will edited for accuracy, clarity, and civility.

The necessity of examining specimens to determine the interpretation being used will be emphasized.

Because one purpose of the Virtual Herbarium is to attract non-botanists, information will also be made available through common names, to the extent that this is feasible.


Developing keys is not a goal of the Virtual Herbarium, but links will be provided to keys that individuals are willing to make keys available in this manner. There will be no restriction on the scope or nature of such keys.