Herbarium Reaches Transcription Milestone with 52,000-plus Specimens Fully Digitized

The herbarium is the heart of research at the Garden. The quiet, climate-controlled space contains approximately 1.5 million dried and mounted plant specimens collected from across the world. A major priority of the herbarium is to digitize the collection by photographing the specimens and transcribing the related information recorded by botanists.

Staff and volunteers made significant strides in reaching this goal last year. “The herbarium ended 2022 with completing transcriptions of 52,674 specimens,” says Herbarium Collections Manager Ashley Bordelon. This brings the total number of completely transcribed specimens to over 286,000.

Digitization requires multiple steps. The first, photographing specimens, is relatively straightforward. Transcribing the text associated with each image is more difficult and time-consuming because the process cannot be automated. Human beings are needed to read the sometimes typewritten, sometimes handwritten, labels and enter the data into a database. It’s a task that requires concentration and demands accuracy.

The herbarium drew on the expertise and passion of a dedicated team of virtual volunteers–its “Armchair Botanists.” These volunteers deciphered difficult handwriting and smudged labels, mastered the spelling of Latin plant names and corrected errors discovered along the way. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without their help,” says Bordelon.

Many specimens transcribed this year are from the herbarium’s Texas collections. The images and data are now searchable through the herbarium’s portal Symbiota.

“We encourage folks to use this portal to discover the unique flora that have been growing in our area over the past two centuries,” says Bordelon. “And we welcome anyone interested in joining the Armchair Botanists to volunteer today. You can make a major contribution to science without leaving your home.”

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