The Massey Herbarium is largely an outreach “arm” of the Department of Biological Sciences, interacting widely within the University as well as with state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and other herbaria in our region of the Eastern United States. The collection houses 107,000 pressed and dried plant specimens and 5,000 dried fungal collections used in research and teaching. Facilities are open daily 8:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
The Herbarium helps meet the land grant mission of the University by providing plant identification services and acting as a general botanical information service for the people of the Commonwealth as well as for municipal, state, and federal agencies throughout the nation. The wide diversity of specimens available provides a useful tool for teaching in many subject areas. Herbarium facilities are used by students, faculty, and staff throughout the University including Biological Sciences, Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife, Plant Pathology, Weed Science, Horticulture, Landscape Architecture, and the Veterinary College. Specimens are kept in air-tight, insect-proof metal cabinets. In 1989, a Spacesaver high-density mobile storage system was installed to expand storage capacity. This modern facility provides an economy of space and will allow for growth of the collection for years to come.
The term ‘herbarium’ applies to a collection of pressed and/or dried plant specimens. Collections are built up over many years as collectors document the diversity and distribution of plants all over the earth. The Massey Herbarium is one of thousands of such collections around the globe. Once dried, specimens will last hundreds of years provided they are mounted or stored using archival materials and protected from insects, light, and mold. A label is affixed to each specimen to provide the taxonomic, ecological, and distributional information that ultimately determines its usefulness and value as a scientific specimen. By systematically organizing the collection, it essentially becomes a library of actual plant material. Traditionally, herbaria have been used primarily in studies of plant classification. Over time, a wealth of information on phenology, plant geography, ecology, and other fields has accumulated vastly increasing the importance of these collections to the scientific community and to resource managers of all sorts.
The vascular plant collection numbers 104,000 accessioned specimens from all parts of North America but specializing in Virginia and the central Appalachian and mid-Atlantic regions. VPI has been a primary repository for botanical studies and continues to add about 1000 specimens per year. Specimens have been acquired through individual collecting, trade, and gifts. These specimens document numerous botanical studies and chronicle the development of botanical knowledge in the Commonwealth over the past 100 years. Special holding include many of the collections of M. L. Fernald whose fieldwork in the 1930-40’s in southeastern Virginia provided much of the information for his revision of Gray’s Manual of Botany. A gift of the J.E. Benedict, Jr., personal herbarium in the 1960’s includes an extensive collection of both New and Old World ferns as well as several thousand collections from the Eastern States particularly rich in ferns, grasses, sedges, and rushes. Other historically important collections are those Henry Ravenel, C.G. Pringle and Dr. Lewis Sherman. More recently, numerous specimens have been acquired from of A.B. Massey, J.B. Lewis, F.W. Hunnewell, R. Kral, M.L. Smyth, L.J. Uttal, C.E. Stevens, G.P. Fleming, J.F. Townsend, and T.F. Wieboldt.
Since Fall 2005, the herbarium has used Specify, a biological collections database application, for all new vascular plant accessions and new loans. About 16,000 records have been entered. An additional 5000 records are maintained in an older Microsoft Access database.
The mycological collections at Virginia Tech include primarily Basidiomycetes with emphases on the Agaricales, Boletales, Gasteromycetes, and the Aphyllophorales. In addition, a small Ascomycete collection with emphasis on Discomycetes is present. The collection has been a pivotal part of the program of teaching and research in mycology over the past from 1970 through 2005. With the retirement of Dr. Orson K. Miller, the mycological collection entered a static stage in terms of growth. In 2012, the bulk of the collection was transferred to the New York Botanical Garden with 5000 specimens from the Southeastern United States remaining at VPI. Many collections are complemented by fresh notes, color transparencies and black and white negatives. A Microsoft Access database contains nearly 15,000 records, including all specimens currently housed at VPI. The mycological herbarium is participating in the Macrofungi Collections Consortium Digitization Project during 2013-2014 and will be available online at a later date.
Prior to being moved to the New York Botanical Garden, the collection contained an estimated 29,500 specimens. Geographical coverage included major collections from Virginia and the Appalachian region, central Idaho and northwestern Montana. In addition, an Alaskan collection numbered more than 6000 with emphasis on arctic and alpine tundra fungi. Major foreign collection were from Europe, Western Australia, Republic of Korea and from The Greater Antilles, especially Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Additional collections came from Canada, Japan, South Africa, and Thailand. Those interested in consulting specimens from outside the SE United States region should contact the New York Botanical Garden.
Cryptogams constitute a small portion of the herbarium holding at VPI. An estimated 1000 bryophyte specimens, mostly from Virginia, are derived from two main sources. Specimens collected throughout Southwest Virginia by Douglas W. Ogle and determined by Dr. David Breil, were acquired by gift from D.W. Ogle. A large number of Sphagnumspecimens from throughout Virginia and determined by Dr. Lewis Anderson, were donated by Chris Clampitt of the Virginia Natural Heritage Program. The bryophyte collection continues to grow slowly through incoming gifts and staff collecting. The bryophyte collection also includes a small number of hepatics.
Beginning with a small historical collection of lichens collected by H.A. Allard in the 1930’s, holdings were bolstered very significantly when two collections were received from the U.S. Forest Service: a biomonitoring study conducted on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest and a lichen flora of the James River Face Wilderness. Continued collecting, mostly by herbarium staff, provides slow but steady growth of the lichen collection. The bulk of the lichen collection is maintained in a Specify database.
Distribution maps for all vascular plant species known to occur in Virginia are maintained on the Digital Atlas Website. Additional information regarding identification, nomenclature, taxonomy, ecology, etc., is available for selected species, and is being added as time permits. Additions and corrections are made on an on-going basis. The Digital Atlas is a collaborative project with the Virginia Botanical Associates and the Flora of Virginia Project.
The Massey Herbarium is available to researchers and serious students of botany during regular working hours or by special arrangement. Curatorial staff will assist visitors with an introduction to the collections. Working bench space is available for short-term use and fully equipped with dissecting microscopes, lighting, and miscellaneous supplies. Loans are also available for qualified researchers associated with other institutions having suitable storage facilities and are made following accepted practices published in Brittonia 25:307-310 (1973). Loans are not made to individuals. The normal loan period is one year, though extensions may be requested from the curator. Destructive sampling is not permitted without prior written consent. All specimens borrowed are to be returned with annotation slips properly signed and dated. Specimens cited in research publications should be designated by the herbarium acronym VPI.