Digitizing the Gardens’ Herbarium

Outdoors, Partnerships, Research, Sustainability

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Herbarium is a hub of energy, activity, and progress this spring!

Staff and volunteers are working side by side to incorporate hundreds of new voucher specimens from our collaborative MidCoast Flora project with the Maine Natural Areas Program and a substantial new gift of material from the Pringle Herbarium of the University of Vermont.  The remarkable and sustained growth sees this relatively new collection topping 6,000 sheets of over 1,600 taxa spanning the spectrum of plant biodiversity across families of mosses, ferns and spore-bearing relatives, conifers, and flowering plants. 

The exciting growth and evolution of the CMBG Herbarium has inspired efforts to make our collections more accessible to the botanical research community. After investigating methods and systems of our colleagues in herbaria at the University of Maine, the University of Massachusetts, and Yale University, we launched a year-long effort to digitize the herbarium’s total array of specimens, one sheet at a time. Using tips gleaned from visits to other herbaria, interviews with photographers, support from our IT staff, and a robust dose of creativity, long-time herbarium volunteer Dr. Hoyt Walbridge and Science & Collections Information Specialist Spencer O’Bryan rolled up their sleeves to develop and install an innovative digital photography station to swiftly and consistently image and barcode each specimen. Hoyt and his family generously contributed to the acquisition of the equipment.

Week by week, staff and volunteers have steadily imaged each and every sheet – bringing into the digital realm plants gathered and pressed by the hands of CMBG staff, interns, students, partners, botany professors, mentors, authors, and enthusiasts through the past two centuries.

The images vividly capture the technical diversity of the collection and all its rich associated data, while simultaneously capturing the raw beauty of each plant. The images also portray the meticulous care and skill of the artistic and dedicated team of volunteers who painstakingly affix the plants to archival paper. 

Pinus rigida
Lilium canadense

Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis
Asarum canadense

The collection of images, which will grow in tandem with new accessions to the herbarium, will become part of the rich trove of data available at the Consortium of Northeastern Herbaria web portal and contribute to botanical and ecological study and research for years to come.  They will no doubt facilitate untold numbers of future CMBG exhibits, interpretive works, and publications as well.


Note: The herbarium of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is open by appointment to visiting scientists, students, botanical artists, and others by contacting mcullina@mainegardens.org.