Sunday, December 18, 2016

Atlas of Georgia Brings Herbaria to the People

When I find plants that are new to me, I do try to identify them. I use a variety of tools, including books and online resources. Many times, after an initial investigation, I might be in the position of comparing 2-3 species in order to reach what I think is the final identification. Identifying asters in the fall is such a case. Pictures can be very helpful at this point, but pictures on the web don’t always have the appropriate details or, even worse, might be misidentified by the person that posted them.

Choose Browse or Search Collection here
A new tool came online this year and I’m pretty excited about it. The Atlas of Georgia Plants portal is a means of viewing vouchered herbarium specimens from the University of Georgia and Valdosta State University herbaria. Over 100,000 specimens, some dating back to the 1800s, have been digitized and are now available for online viewing with more to come.

You can browse the collection by Family, by Genus, and by County. From the navigation menu, choose “Browse Collection” to get started. Some collections are quite large and some are quite small. Some counties have very large numbers of specimens. The same is true for certain plant species. Having a large selection of specimens gives you more to examine which is good; some are in better shape than others. Detail varies by specimen; some of them include roots, most flowering perennials that I checked do include the flowers.
The General Info tab of a selection

Most people might find it more efficient to use the search capability. From the navigation menu, choose “Search Collection” to enter your search criteria such as Genus and Species (e.g., Quercus for genus and coccinea for species). 

This screen has a nice feature: as you type, the webpage is finding matches for you. For example, after having typed “coc” in the species field, you have seven choices already and can choose “coccinea” from the list. You can refine your list by adding county as well.

Image sheet with zoom capability

Once you have found a specimen that you want to examine, double-click on it to open it. This opens the “general info” tab. To see the specimen, click on “image sheet” in the secondary menu. Once you’re in the image sheet, you can zoom in on the specimen if you first choose the option “Switch to interactive view” at the bottom of the page.  Go back to the “Static view” when you are done. 

When you are ready to close the specimen, close it from the top menu by x’ing the specimen number (this is an 1895 specimen of scarlet oak collected by James Small, numbered as “GA084077”). You can keep multiple specimens open at once; just click “Search Collection” again to get another one without closing this one.

Note that some are marked “poisoned.” This means that they were treated against pests.

You can see distribution information at the bottom of the species page (before you select a specimen). In addition, you can find pictorial depictions of distributions at this linkThis link has Alphabetical letters for plant families (e.g., choose “F” to go to Fagaceae if you want to search for Quercus (oaks) or “C” for Caprifoliaceae for Lonicera (honeysuckle)). From there, choose the species you want to go to the distribution maps. I like the list of county names so that I can quickly check which counties have presence rather than trying to figure out the counties by staring at their shapes on a map.

I compared the distribution map to the USDA distribution for chalkbark maple (Acer leucoderme); there are a few differences at the county level but the general distribution is the same (herbarium records might be driving USDA maps, I am not sure).

In general, this is another tool in our kits for identification. If you're in Georgia or nearby states, you might give it a try and see what you think.


  1. This is an awesome resource! Thanks!

  2. Oh my dear, you have given me THE best present by telling me this!! Do you have any idea how often I search for plants and trees that I see on my walks?
    So, I thank you!

  3. This is wonderful! Thank you for this information! I'm always searching around endlessly, too. This will be helpful.