College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Plant Science & Landscape Architecture

Norton Brown Herbarium

Welcome to the
Norton-Brown Herbarium (MARY)

The Norton-Brown Herbarium (Herbarium code MARY) is administered by the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture in the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland College Park. MARY is home to a natural heritage collection that includes ~87,000 specimens of flowering plants, cone-bearing plants, algae, mosses, liverworts, lichen, and fungi. Established in 1901, the Norton-Brown Herbarium holds the largest number of specimens from Maryland, and the mid-Atlantic and also has a diverse collection of preserved plants from all over the world. The collections housed here were instrumental in developing the flora treatments Woody Plants of Maryland (Brown & Brown 1972) and Herbaceous Plants of Maryland (Brown & Brown 1984). More

Dr. Andy Baldwin

Maile Neel
Director

mneel@umd.edu(link sends e-mail)

  

Digitizing for Darwin

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection changed the way scientists understand the vast array of biological diversity on the planet. He would never have had the insights that led to the Theory without studying the collections he made during his time on the H.M.S. Beagle and the collections made by legions of other naturalists exploring the planet.

What better way, then, to celebrate Darwin’s birthday than to digitize high quality digital images of specimens from the Norton-Brown Herbarium to make them available on the web to scientists and interested citizens anywhere, anytime. And that is exactly how 17 citizen scientists spent the rainy morning of February 11 – the day before Darwin’s actual birthdate.

The enthusiastic volunteers were led by Professor Maile Neel (Director of the Norton-Brown Herbarium) and Dr. John Hall of the Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis Project (midatlanticherbaria.org). The project seeks to bring plant collections (called herbaria) from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and D.C. together in an online database to allow investigation of the effects of human influence on the flora of the region. Although the National Science Foundation has funded some digitization, citizen scientists play a critical role in completing the work necessary to fully document the collections.

After a short introduction to the Norton-Brown Herbarium and the Consortium, the citizen scientists were trained to use the crowdsourcing tools on the Consortium website. Then they were let loose transcribing data from images of actual specimens housed at the University of Maryland. Three hours after they had arrived, data from almost 300 specimens had been entered into the database. After the entries were checked over, they went live and were part of the permanent record for the flora of Maryland!

Several people didn’t get enough -- they went home and transcribed more specimens later that day. And they just keep going! As of March 6, less than one month after they were trained, they have transcribed data from more than 2,500 specimens!  Our leading volunteer Bill Harms has transcribed 1,186 of those specimens. Three other volunteers (John Winder [337], Elaine Nakash [286], and Marnie Whitlock [211]) have also continued to transcribe at home as they have spare time. We couldn’t be more grateful for their time and energy.

These contributions are critical. Of the nearly 100,000 specimens in the Norton-Brown Herbarium, 37,837 images in the Consortium database, only 28,019 have complete locality records. Even getting to the point that the citizen scientists have something to transcribe entails a laborious process of taking the high quality images of each fragile specimen, processing the images, and uploading them. The consortium is funding imaging of a portion of the collection, but much of the work is done by University of Maryland students who are paid with funding from donations. Through donations from 2016 we were able to take images of all of the ferns, gymnosperms, and some flowering plant groups. Mid-Atlantic specimens of all monocot families except the sedges and grasses, have also been imaged.

The digital data have already yielded exciting insights into the flora. Bill Harms knows the flora of the Patuxent Research Refuge like nobody else. He has been documenting the flora there for years. He had heard rumors that Quercus prinoides (dwarf chinquapin oak) occurred on the refuge, but nobody knew if there was a voucher confirming its occurrence. In an email titled “Eureka! I found it!”, Bill shared the exciting news that he had come across the evidence he had been seeking – a specimen that had been collected in 1944.

We look forward to many more insights into the flora as more specimen records are completed. You can support the digitizing effort by donating to the Norton-Brown Herbarium Fund (http://giving.umd.edu/giving/fund.php?name=norton-brown-herbarium-fund). Another training day will be held later this spring. If you are interested in helping to digitize, email Dr. Maile Neel at mneel@umd.edu to be put on notification list.

 

 

 

 

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