Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

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Department ofBotany

Anigozanthos viridis, photo by R.A. Howard

(Index)(Full Text)

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The plant collections of the Department of Botany are among the most important worldwide. This vast and intensely managed collection of over 5 million specimens represents a premier national and international resource. This collection is the charge of the scientific and support staffs of the Department, whose responsibility it is to curate and augment these significant research and reference materials, so that both current and future investigators may draw upon this ever improving resource. It can be stated safely that extensive studies in systematic botany cannot be undertaken without recourse to the collections of the United States National Herbarium.

The general collections policies of the United States National Herbarium are similar to those of other major herbaria and, where not detailed below, follow the National Museum of Natural History Collection Management Policy.

II. Purpose, Description and Goals of the National Herbarium

A. Purpose and Description of Collections

The purpose of the United States National Herbarium is to provide a representation of plant communities that have existed throughout modern history, to study and interpret this history through the use of the collections, to make these collections (and their accompanying data) available for study to research scientists around the world, and to use the collections to generate information disseminated through exhibits, publications, lectures, and other educational activities. These purposes, intricately interwoven, contribute to improving the significance and research value of the collection as well as preserving them for future generations.

The collections of the United States National Herbarium number over 5 million specimens and represent all plant groups except fungi. All areas of the world are represented with significant strengths occurring in the New World, Pacific Islands, Philippine Islands and the Indian subcontinent.

The type collection for all plant groups amount to over 100,000 specimens. The collection and type information for each specimen has been recorded and computerized with the Type Register Project. Accessory collections include a large wood collection, anatomical and palynological slide collection and bulky bamboo and palm collections.

B. Kinds of Collections

Permanent, field and Naturalist Center collections are maintained by the Department of Botany and are desribed in the Museum policy.

C. Immediate Collections Goals

The immediate goals of the United States National Herbarium are to:
  1. increase the extent of curation which the collections receive through special attention to prioritized areas
  2. responsibly build the herbarium by adding collections which significantly improve our holdings and by aggressively soliciting collections which improve gaps in the collections or contribute to existing strengths
  3. develop an information base and inventory of collections that will facilitate the accessing and dissemination of collection data, and
  4. provide access to the collection to all research scientists through an active loan program.

III. Acquisition of Specimens

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A. General Criteria

In order to be acceptable for accession, specimens must meet the following criteria:
  1. the nature and quality of the specimens must be consistent with the goals of the Department as stated under section II
  2. the specimens must not exceed the Department's ability to properly care for them
  3. the specimens must be identified, unless received as a gift for identification by a staff member who can be relied upon to provide the proper determination
  4. there should be ample material of any individual collection
  5. specimens must be of identifiable quality
  6. specimens must be adequately labelled and include complete collection data.

B. Collections of Mixed Quality

Once a collection of specimens is accepted, it is generally destined to be processed and totally incorporated into the permanent collection. Occassionally, a collection is accepted even though various items are not of museum quality as outlined above. Frequently, this is not known until after acceptance of the material. These unwanted specimens are then offered to other botanical institutions which may find them desirable. When possible, the record of the disposal of such material is made on the form used to accession the acceptable material. All records regarding matters of acquisition are kept by the Collections Manager.

C. Acceptable Provenience

It is the Department's responsibility to ensure that all acquired specimens were obtained legally and that the provenience of the specimens is clear. Procedures set forth in the "Policy on Museum Acquisitions" shall be followed in case of doubt.

D. Purchases

Purchases as a form of acquisition will be handled as any other acquisition according to the procedures outlined in this chapter. The Chairman is responsible for ensuring that the procedures in OM803 are followed when purchasing a collection with funds set aside by the Collections Acquisition Program.

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E. Acquisition Procedure

General responsibility for accepting new acquisitions rests with the Department Chairman. Individual staff members and the Collections Manager may screen new acquisitions that are considered routine. The Collections Advisory Committee screens and reviews all acquisitions which:
  1. exceed 1000 specimens and/or 30 cubic feet
  2. where packing, shipping and storage costs exceed $500, or
  3. which are not consistent with the current collections goals of the Department.

This committee consists of three curators and the Collections Manager, and except for the Collections Manager, will be selected annually.

This committee follows those procedures outlined in the Museum Collections Management Policy.

Sources of new additions are:
  1. specimens received on exchange from institutions which maintain a formal exchange balance with the Department
  2. specimens received by staff members as a gift or gift for identification
  3. specimens collected by SI staff members
  4. specimens which were purchased or whose collection was contracted.

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F. Accessioning and Records

If and when a specimen or collection of specimens has been deemed acceptable, the appropriate documentation is processed by the Collections Manager and forwarded to the Office of the Registrar (NMNH), with copies retained in the Department for annual reporting and management purposes. The Department of Botany and the Office of the Registrar are working under the guidance of the Director's Office to develop an improved registration system and any resultant deviation from the Museum CMP is approved by the Director.

G. Appraisals

Department of Botany staff do not provide appraisals. If for any reason an exception needs to be made, the advice of the General Counsel's Office will be sought.

H. Deed of Gift

The Department of Botany will obtain from a donor a signed Deed of Gift when the commercial value of the donation is known to be over $100. Gifts are not accepted by the Department if conditions attached to the donation are not approved by the Collections Advisory Committee.

I. Copyright

Specimens which include copyright or trademark rights are unknown in Botany. If a situation arises wherein a potential donation in encumbered with copyright or trademark rights, the advice of the General Counsel's Office will be sought.

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IV. Collection and Space Management

A. Management of the Collections

Primary responsibility for the management of the collections rests with the Chairman, who in turn delegates all of the day-to-day responsibilities to the Collections Manager. The ultimate guide for management of the collections is the National Museum of Natural History Collections Management Policy. Any deviation from this policy will be approved by the Director's Office. A procedural manual which outlines the implementation of the Museum's and the Department's collections policies will be filed in the Office of the Director, NMNH and the Chairman's Office, Department of Botany. The current collections goals of the Department are outlined in section II.D.

B. Space and Collections Acquisition Management

At the end of each fiscal year, the Collections Manager will prepare an overview of the status of the collections of the Department of Botany. This overview will consist of:

  1. a summary of the status of the physical condition of the collections
  2. a statement about collections which need improvement by the addition of new specimens
  3. a general summary of the collections acquired in the previous year, whether they are stored at the Museum Support Center or the Natural History Building, and an estimate of how many cubic feet the collection has grown during the year
  4. a status report of the collections acquired in the previous year, the percentage accessioned, mounted and incorporated into the permanent collection
  5. a statement of known or likely opportunities for acquisition in the future years of donations by others, and
  6. a summary of collections rejected during the the past year. The Chairman will submit these data to the Director along with his detailed request for collection storage space for the next year, particularly for the Museum Support Center, including a statement on acquisition activities which are projected to occur during the upcoming year.

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V. Deaccessioning

A. Exempt Materials

The following materials are exempt from the deaccessioning procdure outlined below:
  • general reference specimens not individually accounted for in any Department inventory
  • parts of wood specimens sent out for destructive analysis

B. Criteria for Deaccession

The Department of Botany will use the criteria for deaccession outlined in the Museum's Collections Management Policy, section V.B.

C. Methods of Disposal / Internal Procedures

Occassionally, it will be necessary to remove and discard or exchange specimens from the collections owing either to deterioration and lack of adequate data or duplication of collections and collections numbers. Specimens thus removed from the collections are mostly used in exchange with other institutions. Exchanges with individuals or with non-cultural and non-scholarly organizations will not be made without the written approval of the Department Chairman.

Suggestions for specimens to be deaccessioned may be made by any staff member to the Collections Manager. The Collections Manager maintains all records of specimens handled in this way. Deaccessioning procedures shall assure that no specimens are intentionally transferred to SI staff.

At no time are deaccessioned speicmens sold, nor do such specimens have other than scientific value. Upon recommendations from scientific staff, inadequately labelled and/or sterile specimens can be removed from the collection and physically destroyed.

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VI. Loans

A. Outgoing Loans

A loan of botanical specimens is made in response to a written and/or verbal request by established botanical institutions for use in valid scientific research projects. Loans are made on an institutional basis only and not between individuals. Exceptions to this must be approved by the Chairman. In routine loan requests, the Collectiuons Manager has the authority to review and approve transactions. The United States National Herbarium reserves the right to refuse a loan to any institution or person who has exhibited anything less than the highest regard for botanical specimens.

Once a loan has been approved, the Herbarium Services Unit selects and prepares the specimens for shipment. All pertinent loan data, including transaction number, date, description and count of specimens are maintained by the Collections Manager. Most loans of non-type specimens are made for a period of one to three years. Type specimens are loaned for six months. Longer loan periods must be approved by the Chairman. Extensions of loan periods may be granted by the Collections Manager only after a written request has been received. Loans of more than 1,000 specimens must be approved by the Chairman. Loans are monitore by the curator loaning the specimens or the Collections Manager. When a loan is overdue or the loan period is about to expire, a letter is sent to remind the recipient to either return the material or to request an extension of the loan period. If there is no response to this reminder, a letter is sent indicating that the loan period has expired and that the loan must be returned.

Occassionally, botanical specimens are loaned for exhibit purposes. The loan of these specimens is consistent with Museum loan policies, and the loan period is defined for a specific length of time.
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Matters of recordkeeping regarding outgoing loans are coordinated with the Office of the Registrar. Once a loan has been fully returned, all original documents are forwarded immediately to the OR.

B. Incoming Loans

Botanical specimens may be borrowed from other institutions throughout the world for study by Department staff members, research associates, post- and pre-doctoral fellows in the course of valid taxonomic, palynological, anatomical biochemical, ecological or cytological research. Eacg curator and research associate, as well as the Collections Manager, may independently request a loan of specimens.

When these borrowed specimens arrive, they are fumigated and processed by the Herbarium Services Unit. Records are made regarding dates, lender, description of material. borrower and loan period. All documents supporting an incoming loan transaction will be maintained in each curator's loan file by the Collections Manager. The specimens are then transferred to the staff member who originated the request. Requests for the extension of any loan may be made by the curator involved or the Collections Manager.

Prior to the return of the loan, the Collections Manager notifies the lender by preparing an invoice, copies of which are routed through the Office of the Registrar, NMNH. Subsequently, the Herbarium Services Unit prepares and packs the loan according to accepted practices for botanical specimens.

It is the policy of the Department of Botany to:
  • handle all incoming loans with the greatest of care, store the specimens in airtight, insect-proof herbarium cases and return specimens safely and efficiently
  • annotate, whenever possible, all borrowed specimens
  • return all loans within the specified loan period, or submit a written request for an extension

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C. Packing and Shipping

The procedures for packing and shipping botanical specimens are fully detailed in the Departmental procedure manual.

D. Loans to High-Level Government Officials

Botanical specimens are never loaned to high-level government officials. If for some reason an exception were to be made, the advice of the General Counsel's Office would be sought.

VII. Specimens Placed in the Custody of the Department

The only specimens for which the Department takes custody without ownership are those received on loan for study or identification. The procedures for the registration and care of these specimens are provided in the previous chapter.

VIII. Care and Control of Collections

In the care and control of collections, the following six areas must be attended to:

  • pest control - prevention and treatment
  • fire preention
  • adequate and appropriate storage space
  • shipping and receiving
  • specimens removed from the collection
  • Herbarium Services Unit as a central control point
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Primary responsibility for the care and control of the collections rests with the Chairman, who delegates the day-to-day responsibility to the Collections Manager. This responsibility, except for curators' special research interests, includes the monitoring of the removal of specimens from the collections for the purpose of outgoing loans or in-house research.

The transportation of specimens between institutions should be undertaken in the safest and most efficient manner practicable. All shipments of specimens are securely packaged and sealed and most are shipped through the United States Postal Service. All incoming material is fumigated prior to entering the collection storage area to minimize the potential for insect infestation. Periodic checks are conducted in the collections storage area to detect signs of infestation. Shouls such signs become evident, then the affected areas are treated in the appropriate manner.

The management and recording of all incoming and outgoing botanical specimens is conducted by the Herbarium Services Unit, under the supervision of the Collections manager. These include space planning, relocation of specimens, mounting and repairing specimens, fumigation and general curation.

Protection against theft and vandalism is effected by maintaining limited access to the collections storage areas (see Chapter IX). Smoking is strictly prohibited in the library and collections storage areas.

All specimens entering and leaving the Department must pass through the Herbarium Services Unit. Records of the movement of specimens are maintained by HSU. Supporting documentation, such as letters of request, transmission of names, etc. or copies of same, must be provided to the Collections Manager for use in management of the transaction file. HSU must process and record all transactions in an expeditious manner.

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IX. Access to the Collections

Since the collections represent the product of many expensive expeditions and years of curation, study and preservation, it is imperative that this most important source of research material be well protected. Therefore, access to the collection storage areas must be restricted and carefully monitored. The final responsibility rests with the Chairman to determine whether an individual researcher may gain access; occasionally, professional staff members may independently provide supervised access to an acquainted researcher.

Those specimens determined to be popular drug plants are stored in a locked herbarium case. The key to these collections is held by the Chairman.

Although cipher locks and "Staff Only" signs help restrict the entrance of tourists and unauthroized visitors into the collection storage area, it is the policy of the Department that staff members inquire into the identity of all unrecognized persons found without badges or other museum identification.

X. Insurance

Providing special insurance for specimens leaving the museum on loan is the responsibility of the Collections Manager through the Office of the Registrar, NMNH. Since the actual monetary value of botanical specimens is insignificant, special insurance is rarely required. Regular postal insurance is carried on all shipments sent "registered", "certified" or "insured", and the coverage is routine. Occasionally, shipments require more than the basic coverage provided; here a loan agreement is signed by the borrower and any insurance cost covering transportation, storage and exhibition is borne by the borrower. All special insurance transactions are reviewed by the office of the Registrar, NMNH before shipping.

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XI. Inventories

The inventory of the collections in the department is prepared according to the Institution's policy stated in OM 804, dated 21 September 1978. The purpose of the inventory is to provide adequate protection for specimens and meaningful management data.

XII. Private Collections

Smithsonian Standards of Conduct require that personnel avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. Therefore, it is the museum and the departmental policy that staff members not form or expand personal botanical collections of any kind while in the employ of the Smithsonian Institution. The specific guidelines of the Museum Collections Management Policy are followed by the Department of Botany. All questions concerning this topic will be referred to the Director's Office.

For more information on collections policies, contact the Collections Manager

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