The West Virginia University Herbarium grew out of the collection of Charles F. Millspaugh, who was employed as a botanist by the university from 1889 to 1894. The herbarium now houses more than 170,000 specimens, making it the largest in West Virginia; and also the largest known collection of West Virginian flora, with around half of those specimens originating from within the state.
Scientific plant specimens consist of dried, pressed plants mounted to sheets of archival-quality paper, labelled with important data such as the location and date of collection, name of collector, and the taxonomic identification (species and family) of the plant itself. Specimens such as these are vitally important for scientific research, as they provide a record of the appearance of a plant through time. The herbarium is a effectively a library of these specimens, making it an invaluable resource to scientists working in ecology, evolution and plant sciences; as well as to naturalists and conservationists from interested amateurs to world experts.
Since 1995, a project has been underway to database information from all West Virginia specimens in the herbarium. About 5,000 hours have been put towards inputting information from herbarium sheets dating as far back as the 1800s; more than 85,000 specimens are now indexed by species, collector, date and county of collection, making it significantly easier for a researcher or curator to assemble all data for a particular plant, location or collector.
To learn more about the history of botany in WV, see the WV encyclopedia.