Digitization of herbarium specimens—capturing images and label data in digital formats—remains an enormous task for the world’s herbaria. For 22 institutions in the U.S. state of California, this job has become easier with a new 4-year, $1.8 million National Science Foundation grant (Award # 1802301) to establish a new California Phenology Thematic Collections Network (TCN). Spearheaded by Dr. Jenn Yost, Director the Hoover Herbarium at the California Polytechnic State University, this new network aims to image over 900,000 herbarium specimens from the oldest records, the most diverse families, and most threatened families in California. California is a biodiversity hotspot and home to more than one third of all U.S. plant species, emphasizing the need to understand this diverse and changing flora through herbarium records. The region’s herbaria already have a strong history of collaboration in the Consortium of California Herbaria, and this project aims to strengthen and expand the capabilities of this community of universities, research stations, natural history museums, and botanical gardens.

The project is trailblazing not only in its ambitious digitization goals and cast of collaborating institutions, but also in its research aim: to better understand flowering time shifts by recording flowering (i.e., phenological) data for each specimen digitized over the course of the grant. Flowering time is an important biological phenomenon for science, society, and biodiversity, and herbarium specimens can provide rich data on how flowering times vary across time and space. This project builds upon recent advancements in standardization and sharing of phenological data, including the Plant Phenology Ontology and data standards developed in collaboration with the New England Vascular Plants TCN, to capture phenological data. Furthermore, the project will digitize specimens of 250 taxa currently monitored by the California Phenology Project and National Phenology Network, empowering future cross-comparisons of specimen-based and observational phenological data. The institutions involved in this project will explore several workflows for capturing phenological data: from specimen sheets during imaging, from label text using a new Attribute Mining tool, and from images using crowd-sourced Notes from Nature expeditions that engage a broad audience of citizen scientists, students, and volunteers to produce phenological scorings. With the efforts of this community of California herbaria, the project hopes to build a strong foundation for the future of capturing phenological data from herbarium specimens.

All specimen images and records produced in this project will be publicly available for research, education, and outreach via the CCH2 portal, an open-source, web-accessible database platform widely used by other collections and TCNs. The project will also develop new tools in CCH2 to mine, explore, and store phenological data, and all data will be aggregated and available through the iDigBio portal. For Cal Poly, this means a lot of great changes. We have hired Katie Pearson as the Project Manager and she is now based here in San Luis Obispo. We have purchased an imaging station to image 40,000 specimens over the next few years. Annie Ayers, a Cal Poly undergraduate and CNPS board member, has been hired as a curatorial assistant. Our workflows are changing and pretty soon, you’ll be able to look at our specimens from the comfort of home!

The project runs from 2018 – 2022. Jason Alexander from UC Berkeley is the Data Manager and Katie Pearson is the Program Manager. The tools, techniques, and data generated as part of this project will expand the value of herbarium specimens in addressing society’s problems. More information can be found at http://www.capturingcaliforniasflowers.org or by emailing jyost@calpoly.edu. This project is funded by the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program of the National Science Foundation. Many California herbaria are contributing to this Thematic Collections Network.

Volunteer at the Hoover Herbarium

 During the volunteer sessions at the Hoover Herbarium, people can take part in any number of activities. One of our primary responsibilities is mounting new specimens. This involves taking dried and pressed plants and glueing them to paper. When we mount plants, we do it in such a way that those specimens will last for hundreds of years. Each specimen is a physical record of what plants occurred where and when. Without this valuable information we wouldn’t know when a species goes extinct, expands or contracts its range, or where species occur. After mounting, the specimens are databased and geo-referenced. Then they are filed into the main collection. We have over 80,000 specimens at the Hoover Herbarium. We are also working on a SLO Voucher

Collection, which will contain one representative specimen for each species in the county. Volunteers look through our specimens and pick the one that should be added to the Voucher Collection. Additionally, we are actively working on our moss and lichen  collections. Volunteers can choose what aspects of the work they would like to participate in. Any and everyone is welcome. The Hoover Herbarium is located on the 3rd floor of the Fisher Science Building (33) in rooms 352 and 359. Starting Sept 18th, the herbarium volunteers sessions will be Mondays from 3-5 pm and Fridays 9 – 11 and 1 – 3 pm.

Parking permits are required Monday through Thursday, 7:00 am through 10:00 pm; and Friday, 7:00 am through 5:00 pm. You can either buy a $6 day pass, a $4 3-hr pass, park in a metered space, or park off campus and walk in. Questions: email Jenn Yost at jyost@calpoly.edu

Jen Yost