There’s a new effort underway make hundreds of thousands of dried and preserved plants collected along the East Coast available through a digital database.
For centuries, explorers, scientists, and amateur botanists scoured the country to document and preserve plant species. Once prized like fine art, the collections were often bequeathed to institutions that housed herbaria, or libraries for plants.
Rick McCourt, botany curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, helps manage the oldest herbarium in North America. The herbarium has an estimated one and a half million plant species in its collection. About 35,000 plant species were collected along the East Coast.
The new database will allow researchers to answer questions about climate change, conservation and urbanization. Questions like: “How has the environment changed?” said McCourt. “What plants occur where? Do they occur someplace differently now than they used to? Are they vanished or gone from an area?”
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