The term Virtual Herbarium refers to an electronic gateway to a physical collection of systematically arranged, dried, pressed plants specimens. Such a system cannot replace a physical collection because it is from the physical herbarium the digital data is extracted. However, a virtual herbarium can dynamically facilitate the easy and efficient retrieval of textual and imagery data, while ensuring the posterity and increasing the longevity of the physical samples.

Between 2005 and 2008 the first virtual herbarium in Jamaica was created.  It represents a collaborative effort between the Institute of Jamaica’s and the University of the West Indies’ Botany and Life Sciences Departments, respectively, with generous funding made possible by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica and logistic assistance was obtained from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens.

Selected specimens from 8 of the most commonly occurring, tropical plant families were those collected by William H. Harris and George R. Proctor of the University of the West Indies, Mona and Institute of Jamaica herbaria respectively. The families represented in the virtual herbarium presently are Annonaceae, Bignoniaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fabaceae (including Caesalpiniaceae, Mimosaceae and Papillionaceae), Lauraceae, Moraceae, Myrtaceae and Rubiaceae.

The most significant of the benefits offered by the virtual herbarium are the accessibility of identified and confirmed field specimens from geographically removed locations; the reduced physical handling of the specimens (some of which are arguably priceless at over 100 years old); and the significantly increased efficiency with which searches can be conducted. The incorporation of a queryable database with digitized herbarium collections will make a paradigm shift in plant taxonomy and research while conserving Jamaica’s botanical natural history treasures.

Dr. Philip Ezekiel Rose & Keron C. St. E.Campbell

The Jamaica Virtual Herbarium website can be accessed through the link below: