The NTBG herbarium (Herbarium PTBG) is a reference collection of permanently preserved, dried and pressed plant specimens (vouchers). It is the foundation for the Garden’s research programs in systematics, floristics, and conservation. Established in 1971 by the fledgling Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden (from which its international herbarium abbreviation PTBG is derived), the herbarium is one of our oldest scientific collections. Its first specimens documented the flora of the garden’s original site in the Lāwa‘i Valley. From that humble beginning the collection has grown to over 66,000 specimens of flowering plants, gymnosperms, ferns and fern allies, fungi, and bryophytes, documenting various floras across the Pacific and a few other select areas.
Natural history collections like those housed in the herbarium provide essential information for classifying and understanding life on earth. Used in conjunction with the library and living collections, the herbarium is an indispensable resource for research by botanists, conservationists, teachers, and students. Herbarium specimens, also known as vouchers, are used for a number of purposes, including:
- Proof of identity for floristic and systematic studies
- Providing plant material for diverse research studies of DNA, pollen, anatomy, morphology, and chemistry
- Documenting, studying, and mapping plant diversity
- Understanding native ecosystems of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands
- Establishing conservation priorities
One especially important section of the herbarium is the type collection, which includes 200 vouchers that have been designated as the specimens which establish the names of their species.
The focus of the NTBG herbarium collection is plants of the Hawaiian Islands and other Pacific islands and archipelagos, including Polynesia (particularly the Marquesas Islands), Micronesia, and Melanesia. The Hawaiian Islands collections include native, naturalized, and cultivated plants, as well as vouchers of plants in NTBG’s gardens. The herbarium also includes excellent reference collections of Rubiaceae and Monimiaceae from tropical America, Madagascar, New Caledonia, and elsewhere. It contains the most comprehensive modern collection of vouchers of Hawaiian and Marquesan plants anywhere, including a number of species that are now extinct.
NTBG is the only institution in Hawai‘i with an active program to document these plants by the systematic collection of herbarium vouchers. Field botanists continue to gather and preserve dried plant specimens as they have traditionally, by pressing them in a plant press. These specimens are brought back to the Garden, labeled, and mounted. Correct identification by botanical specialists is essential. The vouchers are then housed in the herbarium facility, which is designed to protect the specimens from damage by sunlight, humidity, and insect pests. Specimens are also acquired through exchange, gifts for identification, and personal collections.
The herbarium has proven to be an unparalleled resource for researchers around the globe. Recognizing the need for access by researchers and students who are unable to visit Hawai‘i, NTBG is actively computerizing data from the herbarium collections to allow virtual access to the specimens from anywhere in the world. Digital images of the types and other select collections are being made available on our website.
Data as of August 2011