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UW Herbarium Ranks Highly in Nation, World

February 20, 2017
man with dark glasses on taking something out of a box-like device with a camera over it
Dave Mullens, a retired Laramie citizen and University of Wyoming alumnus, images plant specimens in UW’s Rocky Mountain Herbarium. Mullens has been volunteering at the herbarium since the volunteer program started in January 2016. (Charmaine Delmatier Photo)

The University of Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain Herbarium (RM) ranks in the top 2 percent of herbaria in the U.S. and in the world, according to a recent report.

Index Herbariorum’s annual report lists the RM No. 15 among 641 herbaria in the U.S. and No. 75 among 2,962 herbaria in the world. The report’s rankings are based on the number of plant specimens contained in the herbaria.

Founded in 1893, the RM, housed within the Department of Botany, contains 1.3 million specimens from around the world. Approximately 25,000 new specimens are added each year. The herbarium contains the largest collection of Rocky Mountain plants and fungi in existence, with additional representation of the floras of other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

RM staff and graduate students have documented the flora of most state and federal lands in Wyoming, Colorado and northern New Mexico; major portions of Montana and Idaho; and parts of eight adjoining states.

“These herbarium specimens are used to document natural resources; elucidate evolutionary relationships and processes; describe the effects of climate change; and identify organisms and landscapes of conservation concern,” says Greg Brown, a UW botany professor and acting director of the RM.

Since 1997, the RM has received nearly $1.7 million in federal grant funding. Grant awards have helped support and fund the RM graduate program, in which students conduct floristic inventories. In collaboration with UW Libraries, the funding also supports undergraduate students involved in entering data and imaging specimens.

Nearly 850,000 specimens and 140,000 specimen images can be accessed through the RM’s online database at The database is used extensively by the scientific community, state and federal agencies, and the public, and it contributes to regional, national and global consortia, Brown says.

“Wyoming residents should be truly proud of the RM -- an institution worthy of its international reputation,” Brown adds.

Friends of the RM was formed in October 2015 to raise awareness of the RM through public events and activities, and to establish a volunteer program to increase the rate of specimen processing.

Since the volunteer program’s start in January 2016, volunteers have logged more than 5,000 hours to help process a backlog of more than 300,000 specimens, says Charmaine Delmatier, volunteer program director. She says more help would be welcomed.

“You don’t have to be a botanist to volunteer,” she says. “We train you, and you get to pick your own hours.”

To volunteer, go to the RM on the third floor of the Aven Nelson Building, or call Delmatier or Curator Ernie Nelson at (307) 766-2236.

About Index Herbariorum

Index Herbariorum provides a global directory of public herbaria and their associated staff. It was established in 1935 by the International Association for Plant Taxonomy, which published its first six editions (1952-1974). Subsequently, the New York Botanical Garden oversaw the compilation of hard copy volumes. The Index Herbariorum database became available online in 1997.

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