Welcome to West Tennessee!

Maybe it's the excessive summer heat and humidity. Maybe it's the swamps, or the snakes, or the mosquitos. Maybe it's the less-than-spectacular landscape, or the unbridled agriculture and waterway channelization. For whatever reason, field botanists have often avoided West Tennessee when studying the flora of the Southeastern United States. Plant scientists from many disciplines are working to improve the state flora, but with so few of these professionals available in this area, little can be done to improve our knowledge of its plants. To help understand the natural history of West Tennessee, the flora of the area must be collected and extensively documented. This website is published to be a guide and a reference for all field botanists in West Tennessee, and to encourage citizen scientists to contribute to the effort.

Thanks for visiting!

Why do we collect plants?


People have been collecting plant specimens since the late 15th century when they were gathered as a reference for medicinal, herbal, or ceremonial uses. Today they are collected and placed in herbaria for scientific research, which includes the positive identification of each known species. These specimens also provide a record of when a plant was growing in a specific place for distributional studies, genetic material for the study of plant systematics, and even to assist forensic scientists when plant evidence is presented in criminal cases.

In West Tennessee there’s a special need to collect plant specimens, since over time comparatively little work has been done. Species richness, or how many different species can be found in a defined space, varies greatly across the 21 counties. I’m seeing too much contrast in plant diversity among the counties, and even after considering land development the species richness over all counties is low. More than 3,100 species have been documented from all of West Tennessee, but some counties report fewer than 300 species. This suggests many species are missing from the record, and that perhaps rare or even new species exist here.

Recent Collections

1392 Schisandra glabra

1408 Brasenia schreberi

1414 Ostrya virginiana

1383 Penstemon digitalis

1393 Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

1399 Matelea gonocarpos


(number of species/km² x 100)

NOTE: I’m currently gathering the data for each county, and will have it updated soon

What is a herbarium?

A herbarium is a natural history collection of preserved plant specimens. These specimens are recorded and stored systematically for study and reference—much like a library. A herbarium is also the name given to a museum where these specimens are housed.

There are three herbaria in West Tennessee: The University of Memphis Herbarium, which has been reopened after 30 years in storage, and two small herbaria at Rhodes College and the University of Tennessee Martin. These herbaria support researchers and West Tennessee communities by providing valuable information about the regional flora through their collections and the knowledge of their staff.

Below is a picture taken at the US National Herbarium located in the Smithsonian Institution.


To learn more about how a herbarium operates and the value of plant collections, click the image below to watch a short video produced by the
Botanical Research Institute of Texas.


How can I get involved?

  1. By collecting plants in nature and submitting them to a herbarium

  2. By helping out in a herbarium to preserve and document collected specimens

  3. By using Notes From Nature at home to record label data for imaged specimens

If you’re new to plant collecting, see the COLLECTING section of this website for an overview of the process. You can also contact me through this website if you'd like to set up an appointment to learn the procedures of scientific collecting. I’m always willing to help out, and I keep an open invitation to anyone who would like to join me on a local collecting trip for first-hand experience.

If you’d like to volunteer at the University of Memphis Herbarium, we’d be more than happy to have you join us. When new specimens arrive they need to be mounted on archival paper, documented in the database, and filed away. There’s always a backlog of specimens, and lots of other little projects to be done around the herbarium to keep things going. To visit the herbarium for an orientation, just send a quick message to me saying you'd like to check it out and we'll set up a time for you to come in.