The Konza Prairie Biological Station
Life on the Konza
The herbarium is open to the public but mostly used by researchers.
It is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
K-State's Herbarium a rich plant resource for researchers
By April M. Blackmon
Photos by April M. Blackmon.
Above: Herbarium specimens, such as this Konza flower, are valuable tools to researchers.
Left: Plant identification expert Mark Mayfield identifies more than 1,000 plants a year.
While settlers were venturing to the Great Plains in the mid to late 1800s, K-State researchers were gathering plant and seed specimens that eventually became the roots of Kansas State University's herbarium.
Established in 1877, K-State's herbarium is among the oldest, largest and most diverse collection of plants of the Great Plains region. Many of the more than 185,000 specimens are pre-1900 and some date back to the 1840s, according to Carolyn Ferguson, herbarium curator and assistant professor of biology at K-State.
"A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens used for botanical research and reference," Ferguson said. "Its main uses are for studies in taxonomy and floristics."
Taxonomic studies focus on particular plant species, Ferguson said, whereas floristics is looking at all the different plants in a certain area.
"Researchers rely on a strong herbarium collection when learning about specific plants and when looking at all plants that are in a certain area, like the Konza Prairie," she said.
The herbarium is a great resource for researchers at the Konza Prairie Biological station, Ferguson said.
"When a researcher wants to see how variable a species is, they can come here and see," she said. "Our identification aspects are critical to Konza, too."
K-State researchers are not the only ones utilizing the herbarium. Researchers from different herbaria exchange, borrow and loan specimens with each other and scientists around the world visit K-State's herbarium for information.
"Our reference books are used a lot," she said. "We have a wide variety of floras and an excellent taxonomic library."The herbarium is also a plant identification source for county extension agents and others curious about their plants.
"County extension agents who aren't able to identify a particular plant look to us for positive identification," she said. "Most send images over the Web to our plant identification expert, Mark Mayfield."
Mayfield, a research assistant professor at K-State, identifies more than 1,000 plants a year, Ferguson said.
While the herbarium is a valuable resource, Ferguson said its physical filing system means the data are not used as extensively as they could be.
"Since we have a strong ecology program, we're very interested in making the herbarium more useful as a resource for ecologists," she said. "Currently, all plants are filed by their taxonomic name, yet ecologists may want to locate all specimens from a particular habitat, for example."
Ferguson said the herbarium staff is currently working on computerizing the collection in a searchable database format.
"Ecologists would use the herbarium more if they could access it in many ways, being able to search by date, county, etc.," she said.
A set of species from the Konza Prairie will be among the first databased, according to Ferguson.
"We hope to apply for a grant in the next year to help fund computerizing more of our collection," she said. "By computerizing our collection we could greatly increase the research potential of the herbarium."