(ST. LOUIS): The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis operates one of the largest and fastest growing herbaria in the world, and the second largest in the western hemisphere. With the addition of a specimen of Anthurium centimillesimum, a gigantic new aroid species from Ecuador, the Garden's permanent collection of pressed and dried plant specimens has reached a milestone of six million specimens.
A herbarium is essentially a "library" of plant specimens. The Garden's herbarium includes about five-and-a-half-million vascular plants (flowering plants, ferns and conifers) and 500,000 bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts). The bryophyte collection is also one of the largest of its kind in the world.
"The importance of these 'libraries' of plants cannot be overstated," said Vice President, Science and Conservation, Dr. Robert Magill. "There are an estimated 300,000 recognized, named species of plants, with perhaps an additional 100,000 species still to be discovered. Herbaria are vital resources that allow botanists to organize information about this enormous diversity of plant life. Without a system of documentation that includes actual samples of the plants, it would be nearly impossible to make conclusions about the roles and relationships of plants, or to even verify the discovery of a species new to science."
Plant specimens are collected in the wild, pressed in newspaper folds, and dried in a wooden-framed plant press before being sent to the Garden's herbarium for study and identification. At the Garden, newly received specimens are counted, recorded, and treated by freezing to kill insects that might eat them. Permanent labels are prepared from the collector's field catalog for each specimen. The label contains information on where and when the specimen was gathered, by whom, and any features about the plant that are not readily apparent from the pressed specimen. The specimens are then studied by plant taxonomist
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Missouri Botanical Garden