Founded in 1869, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Herbarium is the oldest collection of preserved plant specimens in the Gulf South and is the second largest collection of Louisiana plants. Originally composed entirely of specimens of vascular plants, it now also includes fine collections of lichens and fungi. In all, the LSU Herbarium contains ca. 180,000 specimens, with over 40,000 lichens (the largest lichen collection in the Gulf Region) and ca. 25,000 fungi (the second-largest collection of its kind in this region). The fungal collection is rich in Neotropical wood-decaying fungi, and Gulf Coast lichens are well represented. The LSU Herbarium is an essential resource for research, teaching, and public service, including the study of the wildflowers of Louisiana, the ecology of Louisiana marshes, the medicinal plants of the Gulf South, the environmental impact assessment in Louisiana, and the conservation of tropical rain forests.
Shirley Tucker, Bernard Lowy, and Clair Brown
A revitalization of the herbarium in the 1990's was helped by several events. In 1991, the herbarium received a large grant from the State of Louisiana to computerize the collections, and this work is an ongoing project. Dr. Tom Wendt (now at U of Texas), specialist in Mexican rain forest trees, joined the herbarium in the same year as Associate Director, the first full-time Ph.D. level herbarium staff member. Dr. Mark Mayfield (now at Kansas State), and subsequently Dr. Diane Ferguson, continued as associate directors at LSU. Commissioned by LSU in 1976 and completed in 1991, a series of watercolor drawings by the internationally known botanical artist Margaret Stones of England commemorated the bicentennial year. Lowell Urbatsch, Director of the LSU Herbarium, provided the botanical text. This work was supported by many local Louisianians and carried out in conjunction with LSU Herbarium personnel.
In 1992, the Clair Brown Memorial Endowment was established, being named after the long-time Director of the Herbarium and author of Wildflowers of Louisiana and Adjoining States, Trees of Louisiana, and many other botanical works. This fund is growing through private contributions and provides income entirely for herbarium use. The Herbarium also boasts a rapidly growing herbarium library which includes the very fine collections donated by Clair Brown, Bernard Lowy, Shirley Tucker, Samuel Meyers, and Florence Givens. The herbarium library is complemented by important botanical works in the LSU Middleton Library, including many rare works in the outstanding Special Collections housed in the adjacent Hill Memorial Library.
In addition to increased staff and funding, LSU moved the herbarium to a new building, the Life Sciences Annex, completed in April 2001. The 6,000 ft2 herbarium complex is designed to hold a maximum of 800,000 accessions in a compactorized storage system. The facility also includes a new library, three research carrels, a dedicated server for the database, a spacious workroom, an ultracold freezer, and a plant drier. The goals of the LSU Herbarium are to become the premier collection of Louisiana and Gulf Coast plants and to become a resource of international importance for the plants and fungi of the northern part of the New World Tropics. Present herbarium fieldwork includes general collecting in Louisiana and the Gulf South, natural areas survey work in Louisiana in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy of Louisiana and the US Forest Service, and collection of fungi associated with arthropods.
In 1992, herbarium personnel started a project to separate
out the historical material (probably about 3,300 specimens)
from the main herbarium. The phases and objectives were:
1) review the entire herbarium sheet by sheet and remove specimens which are deemed to be of historical importance (including all nineteenth-century material from Louisiana and adjoining states)
2) determine for each specimen who collected it, where, and when and attach new labels
3) repair and strengthen specimen mountings.
Today, the historical collection is organized and stored separately from the main collection where it will remain available for study yet receive less wear and tear than the specimens in the main herbarium.
The Louisana State University Herbarium of the Department of Biological Sciences prepared and accessioned their 100,000th vascular plant specimen and had a celebration October 8, 2001. Leigh Rhodes, a Chancellor's Aide student, prepared the specimen for the herbarium. The specimen was collected in 1990 by Jose Lavalle from Teznekht, Morocco, and is an unusual member of the nightshade family, Withania adpressa. The plant was acquired in an ongoing exchange of specimens with the Jardin Botanique National de Belgique in Meise, Belgium.
According to the herbarium director, Dr. Lowell Urbatsch, the vascular plant herbarium has added ca. 55,000 collections since his arrival in 1975, more than doubling it's size since its establishment in 1869. In addition to the vascular plants, the herbarium houses the moss, lichen, and fungal collections of LSU, altogether totalling about 165,000 specimens.