Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Global Plants: An Online Plants' 'Type Specimen' Database

Marita La Monica
Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications
151 East 61st Street
New York, NY 10065

Global Plants is a community-contributed database where worldwide herbaria can share their plant type specimens, experts can determine and update naming structures, students can discover and learn about plants in context, and a record of plant life can be preserved for future generations. The Global Plants Initiative (GPI), a collaboration of more than 270 herbaria in 70 countries, and JSTOR, a service of ITHAKA, released Global Plants a couple of months ago.


Global Plants holds more than 1.9 million plant type specimens—the authoritative records for plant species that are catalogued in herbaria around the world—along with their scientific names and classifications. It also includes complementary material such as paintings, photographs, and the correspondence of explorers who originally discovered and collected various species. Scientific researchers, conservationists, and others engaged in studying the world’s plant biodiversity regularly use the database.

The effort to bring these materials online originated with a small group of herbaria, then called the African Plants Initiative (API). The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided funding to API to digitize African flora, specifically plant type specimens. The project grew to incorporate herbaria and plants from Latin America and, ultimately, became global in scale. 

Today, GPI partner organizations from Argentina to Zimbabwe capture data and use digital technologies to create high resolution images of type specimens, along with images of other types of content, from their collections and contribute them to the database. JSTOR acts as their virtual hub, providing the production systems, support for digitizing the types, and a platform for the discovery and use of the content by the partners’ own researchers as well as others at institutions throughout the world.

Screen shot of the Global Plants website (


Global Plants and the GPI partnership have had a wide-ranging impact. “GPI has galvanized the bioinformatics community, establishing an important precedent for global collaboration on a scale rarely seen in any academic discipline,” said Lauren Raz, Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.With this large and growing virtual herbarium in place, scientists and students can explore plant life from local and global vantage points, often discovering plants or colleagues they would not have located previously.

“[Because of Global Plants], we have received many inquiries from scientists all over the world making our herbarium more visible to the botanical community and significantly increasing its value,” commented Laura Iharlegui of Curadora del Herbario (LP), Museo de La Plata in Argentina.

And then there are the possibilities of new discoveries. By building Global Plants together, scientists hope to identify new species, catalogue the destruction of species, and better understand changes in ecosystems over time.

“Global Plants is a perfect example of the way in which previously collected information presented in a new format is stimulating research that might otherwise never be undertaken,” said Ken Cameron, a professor in the Department of Botany at University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

Filed as Aa calceata (Rchb.f.) Schltr.
Herbarium, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

Global Plants has been in development for many years, tripling in size, and is now transitioning from a grant-funded project to one that the GPI partners and JSTOR hope will be sustained by a growing network of institutions. The GPI partners will contribute financial support; JSTOR will provide infrastructure and other services; and educational, cultural, and other not-for-profit research institutions will contribute annual fees for access to some parts of the database.

“Our partners have a vested interest in ensuring the GPI collaboration and database continue to thrive and grow,” stated Barbara M. Thiers, director, William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden. “It is a landmark project for science, and a great example of how the academic community can take advantage of technology to advance research.”

For more about Global Plants content and access, visit:
For more about the Global Plants Initiative, visit:  

For demonstration watch the video below.

Global Plants Tour - June 2013 from JSTOR Global Plants on Vimeo.

[Global Plants (  is an initiative of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.]


  1. Oh! This is great. I wish all the herbaria across the world can make a centralized online database. This will increase the utility and reduce the redundancy and cost effective too.

  2. thanks very much to global plants team for this worldwide herbaria on a single platform. it will be helpful for botanist to identifying specimen.


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