U.S. National Arboretum: Preserving Plants Through Digitization

A treasure trove of botanical wonders is undergoing a digital revival! Help us create a virtual herbarium collection for the world to discover and enjoy.

Current status

  • 206,746 scans
  • 42 participants

  • 283
    • 0% Unusable
    • 0.1% Double entered
    • 0% Validated data
    Double entered 0.1%
  • 84
    • 0% Unusable
    • 0.1% Double entered
    • 0% Validated data
    Validated data 0%
Participate in this project

About the project

Preserving Plants Through Digitization is an initiative of the Herbarium of the United States National Arboretum, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The project aims to safeguard the priceless plant specimens cared for by the National Arboretum and make them more accessible and engaging to users around the world.

With your help transcribing the data contained within our collection, we will obtain digital versions of our specimens which can then be shared with and utilized by researchers, educators, and the general public. This project represents a unique opportunity to contribute to the preservation and access of a collection of truly unique plant specimens!

The United States National Arboretum Herbarium

Located in northeast Washington, D.C., the United States National Arboretum is home to a spectacular array of stately gardens, iconic landmarks, and active research fields. In addition to these treasures, and out of the public's eye, the National Arboretum also houses a world-class collection of dried, pressed plants in the form of herbarium specimens. These specimens, which are mounted on large sheets of paper and preserved in perpetuity, represent over 200 years of plant collecting from nearly every corner of the globe.

The herbarium contains about 800,000 specimens and ranks within the top 50 largest such collections in the world. Many specimens are unique to our herbarium like plants collected from cultivation and original botanical introductions from overseas. Other interesting botanical assets include state "champion" trees, extinct species, crops and crop wild relatives, novel hybrids, cherries from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate, and never-before-seen plants from remote parts of globe.

What is being transcribed and what is the process?

Each specimen image will have some amount of data (collection information) associated with it, usually in the form of a label attached to the sheet. The data contained on this label must be transcribed into a digital format as part of our ongoing digitization efforts. Some of the data to be transcribed may include fields such as the collector's name, date, collection locality, habitat information, what other species are growing with it, and so much more!

The data entry instructions can be found on the right panel of the project page, or by clicking here.

When presented with an image of a specimen, your task will be to type what you see on the label(s) into specific fields. This data will then be validated, curated, and finally included in the National Arboretum's "virtual herbarium."

Project outcomes

Information that you transcribe is a critical component of our growing "virtual herbarium," which aims to be the digital equivalent of the physical herbarium housed at the United States National Arboretum. The data can then be organized, accessed, searched, and updated—it also supports our long-term goal of preservation. As more and more specimen labels are transcribed, they will appear in our herbarium collection portal along with an image of the sheet itself.