This site will be useful for identifying families, genera or plant species in regions for which comprehensive field guides are not available, or where manuals depend on the use of technical floral or fruit characters absent in the voucher specimens. It will even be useful to paleobotanists and others with interest in comparative morphology of tropical plants.
To this end we are providing a desktop reference set of high-quality images of dried herbarium specimens for comparison. These will represent a broad range of Neotropical genera and common species. The underlying strategy is to have just a few examples of each species, specimens that are typical or illustrative of that species. Preference is given to specimens that have a good set of leaves as well as flowers or fruit, and to specimens with an authoritative identification. Specimens of juveniles will be included when available and when significantly different in appearance from adults.
At this point, the species selection has been uneven and eclectic with a bias toward Peruvian species. We continue to add more species and will provide a wider representation of genera and common species. We expect to add other selectable fields that will help restrict the number of choices, e.g. life-form, and countries and field stations in which the species is known (rather than just the country of the representative specimen).
These scanned images are viewable larger ("View Max") than the actual size of the specimens, but the size varies according to your monitor settings and browser. To review many specimens at once we have also created smaller images. After selecting a family, one can use the scroll feature with the thumbnails or the somewhat larger data images to quickly sift through specimens of many genera and species, selecting those that are possible matches. Opening the medium or maximum blowups reveals much more detail (a cm scale is provided at the upper right edge of each image).
Some identifications might be done confidently with only these matches. But that is risky. Given that we have only a fraction of Neotropical species now visible here, it is safer to use these images for potential identifications, and confirm them with use of the herbarium, literature, or assistance of a specialist. It is not a replacement for herbaria or plant taxonomists, but a way to use them more effectively.
The specimens have been selected for scanning from a synoptic collection of Neotropical plants, known as the Rapid Reference Collection, being developed within the Searle Herbarium of the Field Museum by Robin Foster and collaborators.
Although we have over 14000 species represented, this is still a pilot project. The data set is far from clean, for example: species names occasionally linked to the wrong image, or use of old names not currently accepted. We apologize for confusion this may temporarily cause, and appreciate corrections anyone else is willing to contribute as we do the cleaning. Please send any comments or changes to Dr. Corine Vriesendorp (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dr. Nancy Hensold (email@example.com).