Have you wanted to have a friend who identified things correctly and could show you an example of the plant? Someone who was available 24/7 to show you pictures? Well, here is the next best thing: an online collection of pressed specimens! I have written about such a thing before in 2016 but unfortunately that site is no longer available (I believe its demise might have been due to funding issues). Then a friend told me about the SERNEC Portal and I am happy again.
The SERNEC Portal is part of the Southeast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections (SERNEC) and can be found at https://sernecportal.org/portal/. According to their website: “SERNEC is a consortium of 233 herbaria in 14 states in the southeastern USA. […] SERNEC is currently funded by the National Science Foundation as a Thematic Collections Network with the goal of digitizing an additional 4 million specimens from the southeast United States.”
The site is useful in many ways, but I use it to find pictures of specific plants. While I can use search engines like Google to find images, sometimes those images are misnamed or – in the case of less-photographed species – simply not available. Or I might want to find out if a particular species has been documented in a certain county. Either way, the SERNEC Portal is my friend at any time of the day. Since these are vouchered herbarium specimens, each one is correctly identified!
The Portal has many different ways to find specific plant data, but here is how I use it. Generally I am either a) trying to find a good photo of a plant so I can look at leaf details or b) looking to find county records (e.g., has this plant been found in Cherokee county in Georgia?).
1. From the main menu, choose Specimen Search and then Search Collections.
2. The next screen lists all of the contributing collections and here you could be more specific if you wanted only certain collections. I like to include them (the default), so I click the Search button on the right to proceed.
3. Start typing in the Scientific name and it will start to give you choices based on spelling. You can choose from those choices or keep typing. Enter United States into the county and the state (for Georgia you can either use the full spelling or GA). If you want, also enter the County. Note: if you have autofill turned on, the boxes may auto-populate so check your entries. Sometimes it would put my last name in the Collector’s Last Name box and of course that would never find anything.
4. I like to use the Table Display choice so I click that box on the right.
5. On this search example, I found no county records so I try again leaving the county blank. The table returned shows the specimens for Georgia.
6. The rows in the table include the name of the reporter, the date (look at those from the 1800s!), the county (if known) and a link to the image (if available). Just for fun, let’s look at the two from the 1800s. The interesting thing about older images is to see the older names used. But you can also see that there is now a newer label with the current name.
I hope you find this useful. Scans of this data and search tools that make it available really help bring more tools to the average folk. And thanks to the students for their many hours of scanning that make it possible.