[Science news] - Digitising 1.4 million herbarium specimens

Mon 25 Mar

Over the last few years, Meise Botanic Garden has digitised 1.2 million herbarium sheets and placed them online at www.botanicalcollections.be. This year we have started a new project, financed by the Flemish Government, to digitise an additional 1.4 million specimens.

While the first project covered specimens from Belgium and Africa south of the Sahara, this one encompasses specimens from the rest of the world, together with the macroalgae (seaweed) herbarium. These herbaria also include interesting and important collections from the 19th century, such as those from Von Martius (1794-1868), and Van Heurck (1838-1909) which includes plants collected by Linnaeus.

The tender was awarded to Picturae, who also carried out the previous work. Imaging begins in early June and is scheduled to be completed in a little over a year. Almost simultaneously, the company will database the label information from the sheets. The project should be completed by October 2021, by which point we will have digitised approximately 75% of the 4 million specimens that we house.

Digitisation unlocks our plants for scientists and enthusiasts, and reduces the risk of damage from handling the physical specimens. Since the online release of these images and their data in early 2018, the number of website visitors has tripled to well over 100,000.