For reasons unknown to me, the native and naturalized plants of West Tennessee have not been recorded with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the state. Botanists, ecologists, and taxonomists are all working to improve the state flora, but the plants of this area are still under-represented in the state’s repository at the University of Tennessee herbarium. To help understand the natural history of West Tennessee, the flora of the area must be collected and documented. This website is intended 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 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 in the development of evidence for 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. There’s 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 1,800 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, perhaps rare or new species.
1392 collected on 06-JUN-2016 Schisandra glabra 1408 collected on 25-JUN-2016 Brasenia schreberi 1414 collected on 25-JUN-2016 Ostrya virginiana 1383 collected on 17-MAY-2016 Penstemon digitalis 1393 collected on 13-JUN-2016 Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 1399 collected on 22-JUN-2016 Matelea gonocarpos
1392 collected on 06-JUN-2016 Schisandra glabra
1408 collected on 25-JUN-2016 Brasenia schreberi
1414 collected on 25-JUN-2016 Ostrya virginiana
1383 collected on 17-MAY-2016 Penstemon digitalis
1393 collected on 13-JUN-2016 Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
1399 collected on 22-JUN-2016 Matelea gonocarpos
(number of species/km² x 100)
NOTE: I’m currently gathering the data for each county, and will have it updated soon
KNOX COUNTY, EAST TENNESSEE (for comparison)
WHAT IS AN HERBARIUM?
An herbarium is a natural history collection of preserved plants that are recorded and stored systematically for study and reference. It’s also what we call the museum where these collections are housed.
There are two herbaria in West Tennessee: The University of Memphis Herbarium, which until recently had been closed since the 1980s, and a small herbarium at Rhodes College, also in Memphis. These herbaria support researchers and West Tennessee communities by providing valuable information about the regional flora through their collections and knowledgeable staff.
➤ To learn more about how an herbarium operates and the value of plant collections, click below to watch this short video produced by the
Botanical Research Institute of Texas.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
There are a couple of ways you might help document the flora of West Tennessee:
1. Collecting plants in the field and submitting them to an herbarium.
2. Helping out in an herbarium to see that the collected specimens are properly preserved and documented.
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 like, and we can set up a time to meet at the University of Memphis where I can go over the procedures of good collecting with you. I’m always willing to help out, and I keep an open invitation to anyone who would like to join me on a 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 me a quick message saying you’d like to check it out!