Functions

Its importance as a repository of records defined its role in the study of botanical taxonomic research. The standard and well established method of preparation and treatment of herbarium specimen benefits botanists all over the world. Its idea is simple yet serves its role in performing its general purpose in botanical studies, by allowing expansion and elaboration of its study areas (1).

In a broader view, the purposes of a herbarium (1) are as:

  • a storage of reference materials that are arranged and indexed for ease of retrieval and referencing.
  • a means of nomenclatural management, for the identification of unknown or doubtful specimens, done by way of matching with named specimens in the collections. Thus it is crucial that collections be properly indexed, arranged according to taxonomical relationships.
  • an authority that maintains the historical path of nomenclature. It preserves the nomenclatural standards whilst entailing revisionary works.
  • a comprehensive databank that represents a description of the plant’s distribution and the region’s vegetation.
In keeping up with the evolution of data management and sharing, the role has been extended to not just physical collection and use but also virtual in the form of digitization of herbarium materials (2). This exercise allows for digital cataloguing, data and image storing hence promoting ‘virtual visitors’ that may access the information without having to physically visit the collection centres / herbarium.

Advantages of herbarium specimens

Specimens provide a lot of contribution in terms of economy and scientific needs to society and for the benefit of future generations. They offer benefits to society by providing reference materials for critical endeavours such as agriculture, human health, biosecurity, forensics, to control of invasive species, conservation biology, natural resources, and land management.

Practical worth of herbarium specimens (3, 4) are as follows:

  • provide samples for the identification of plants that may be vital in criminal investigations.
  • identifying poisonous plants accidentally consumed by humans, pets, or livestock.
  • serve as a means of relocating rare, threatened, endangered, or extirpated species.  It allows documentation of what plants grew in a certain geographic area over time and allow an estimation of impact human settlement has had on species distributions.
  • Can be used as an educational resource that serves as a standard resource for graduate students.

 

References

  1. Bridson, D & Forman, L (eds). 1992. The Herbarium Handbook (Revised Edition). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2007. Herbarium Digitisation. Retrieved 27 June 2007 from http://griffin.rbgkew.org.uk/data/herb_digitisation.html
  3. Society of Herbarium Curator. 2004. The Importance of Herbaria. Retrieved 3 Sept 2009 from http://drupal.sunsite.utk.edu
  4. Botanical Research Institute of Texas. 2007. Herbarium. Retrieved 3 Sept 2009 from http://www.brit.org/herbarium/