Notes from Nature – NYBG: New expeditions to uncover global plant biodiversity!

NYBG - Notes From Nature-2

For over 125 years, the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) has served as a crucial resource for researchers around the world seeking to study and conserve plant biodiversity. Through projects dedicated to discovering new species, documenting regional floras, and deciphering complex evolutionary relationships within the plant kingdom, thousands of scientists have helped build our collection of 7.8 million specimens — representing the largest natural history archive of plants in the westen hemisphere. Now, plant lovers everywhere can support future scientific exploration at our institution by helping to document our specimens!

Virtual Herbarium Image

This specimen of Gentiana catesbaei “Elliott’s Gentian” was collected in 2016 by Wayne Longbottom, a former amateur naturalist turned active contributor to the NYBG herbarium.

Each NYBG “virtual expedition” will target a subset of our extraordinary collection to accomplish unique research objectives. Some projects will be dedicated to exploring particular geographic regions or specialized habitat types (such as alpine areas), and documenting plants that have been discovered there. Other projects may follow along on the expeditions of notable plant collectors in order to chronicle significant historical specimens. Lastly, we’ll aim to investigate evolutionary relationships and biogeography by cataloging all the occurrences of specific groups of plants scientists know are closely related. All the extraordinary new digital-datasets that citizen scientists help create will contribute profoundly to our understanding of the living planet and open new avenues for investigating long-term patterns in biodiversity change.

Virtual Herbarium Image

NYBG specimens frequently document occurrences of rare native species, like this carnivorous “pitcher-plant” Saracenia purpurea, collected in 1981 from Adirondack Park in New York State.

Citizen scientists who participate in Notes from Nature – NYBG will learn how to interpret natural history specimens and gather research using a variety of online tools to overcome challenges with deciphering historic collection labels. One of the most important resources for puzzle-solving will be the very database we are working to create, the C. V. Starr Virtual Herbarium, where we openly share all currently available data about our specimens. Your mission will be to help fill the gaps in our knowledge using the collections we have already digitized as a guide!

Virtual Herbarium Image

NYBG’s collections are not limited to land plants! This specimen of marine algae represents a separate branch of the tree-of-life, and demonstrates a more challenging hand-written collection label.

Most NYBG expeditions feature a comprehensive workflow designed to capture every essential detail which scientists routinely use: including precise geographic location, date, and collector information. For newcomers to natural history specimens and participants who are looking for a faster-paced activity, Notes from Nature – NYBG will also host “US State Spotter” expeditions, featuring a simplified workflow intended to efficiently capture basic geographic data about our specimens. Keep a lookout for other project types in the future as we experiment with new approaches for including the public in gathering scientifically relevant information from our renowned botanical collection!

Click to join our virtual expeditions today! 

Then discover The Hand Lens to learn more about the fascinating stories told by NYBG specimens.

–Charles Zimmerman, William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, New York Botanical Garden



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