Former Curator Edward H. Graham
The section of Botany at Carnegie Museum of Natural History has approximately 500,000 vascular plant specimens from all over the world. The herbarium houses approximately 3,000 type and isotype specimens including sheets from Elmer, H.H. Smith, and Palmer and Pringle expeditions. There are more than 1,200 institutions in the United States with herbaria and Carnegie’s collection ranks eighteenth in size, making it one of the country’s largest collections. The collection contains numerous specimens from the upper Allegheny and western Pennsylvania regions, making this collection the only available documentation for the past and present flora of this region. Outside of the immediate region, the greatest number of specimens are from the rest of North America (especially the arctic Canada, southeastern US, and western US), followed by Latin America and Asia.
Botany was founded at the turn of the century when Carnegie Museum of Natural History was first organized and expanded; both the section and herbarium were begun through the local efforts and support of the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Additional plant specimens, including many old and unique sets, were acquired directly through purchases, gifts, and exchanges. The collection expanded rapidly in this early period and had an international dimension to its growth.
Five generations of scientific staff have curated the collections and managed its growth. The first caretaker was John Shafer, who did extensive collection in Cuba in conjunction with N. L. Britton, who later became the Director of the New York Botanical Garden. The curatorship of Shafer was followed by overlapping periods of service by Otto E. Jennings, Edward H. Graham, LeRoy K. Henry, Dorothy L. Pearth, Fred Utech, and Sue Thompson. Jennings also served as Director of the Museum and Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. During the mid-seventies Fred Utech became the section's curator, expanding the library and establishing the first wet lab in the museum. Currently the section is staffed by Collection Manager Bonnie Isaac.
Botanist N.L. Britton
The collection houses valuable historic specimens, the oldest dating back to 1728 by the Englishman William Paine. Today the herbarium serves as a repository for plants collected by the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania, the Wild Resource Conservation Fund, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, among others.
Within the section there is a library containing more than 10,000 botanical volumes and periodicals. An additional 60,000 reprints dealing with plants are kept within the section. Books from the 18th century, including those of Linnaeus, and hundreds from the 19th century, are housed in the section. Although these early volumes are important, the volumes of the 20th century far outnumber those in the preceding two centuries.
The herbarium serves as a vital resource for teaching and research. Botanists and interested students visit the facility each month to answer questions about plant identification, check actual collections, or review records in the database. It serves local colleges and universities and government agencies as well as wildflower societies that have an interest in the local or regional northeastern flora.