Plants & Fungi

Plants & Fungi

Plants and fungi are essential to life on earth—key components of the planet’s ecology, biodiversity, climate, and human cultures. The study of plants and fungi is fundamental to medical science, conservation, genetics, agriculture, food-web studies, soil science, climate studies, anthropology, and many other fields. Field Museum botanists are leaders in the study of plant and fungi evolution, ecology, biogeography, environmental/climate impact, plant-animal interactions, and more.

A glimpse of The Field Museum's Botany Department, with over 2 million specimens and a network of passionate researchers:

    tlumbsch's picture

    Thorsten Lumbsch

    Vice President, Science and Education; Curator, Lichenized Fungi Science and Education

Plants & Fungi Collections

Andean Flowering Plants

These are data on collections from Peru and our series of floristic inventories supported by National Geographic Society and National Science Foundation. Specifically, the database contains the specimen-label information from over 23,000 collections from northern Peru (Departments Amazonas, Ancash, Cajamarca, Piura, Lambayeque, La Libertad, San Martín). This database covers an area designated as a biodiversity hotspot and is exceptionally robust, in that the determinations of constituent records were largely provided by taxonomic experts.

Berlin Negatives

The Botany Department's unique type photograph collection originated in 1929 when J. Francis Macbride, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, traveled to Europe to photograph herbarium specimens of nomenclatural types. The intent was to make the photographs available to American botanists unable to finance travels to European herbaria; the widespread adoption of the loan process was not as fully developed as it is today, necessitating travel for consultation.
(more about Macbride)

Botany Species Pages

This part of our KE EMu database provides access to taxon information in the form of taxon pages, including nomenclature and synonymy, descriptions, remarks, notes on distribution and ecology, and images. It accesses the same part of the database (Taxonomy module) as the Taxonomic Search, but is restricted to species and higher taxa that have detailed information available.

Botany Specimens

Botany is the scientific study of plants and fungi. Scientists in the Department of Botany at The Field Museum are interested in learning why there are so many different plants and fungi in the world, how this diversity is distributed across the globe and how best to classify it, and what important roles these organisms play in the environment and in human cultures.


Liverworts, mosses, and hornworts - technically referred to as bryophytes  - are considered to be a pivotal group in our understanding of the origin of land plants because they are believed to be among the earliest diverging lineages. Bryophytes are ecologically significant, contributing to nutrient cycles, forming a major component of forest canopy humus, and are effective rainfall interceptors that add to hill stability and help to prevent soil erosion.

Costa Rican Fungi

At present, the searchable database houses about 10,000 records of macrofungi and 20,000 records of lichens (including duplicates), distributed among F, INB, CR, USJ, NY, WIS, B, and other institutions. Data on microfungi are expected to be added soon. You can search the database for particular taxa and get data on their distribution and ecology, or you can search specific regions or sites within Costa Rica to get a list of the taxa present in the area.

Economic Botany

More than 12,000 economic botany specimens are housed in the Timothy C. Plowman Economic Botany Collection. The collection comprises economic "useful" plants and plant products, with the primary emphasis on seed plants.


The genus Erythroxylum, best known for the species Erythroxylum coca  L., from which commercial cocaine is derived, contains ca. 230 species of tropical trees and shrubs, of which about 180 are found in the Western Hemisphere. These neotropical species were the focus of intense systematic and ethnobotanic study by Dr. Timothy Plowman for about 15 years until his untimely death in 1989. Because of his work, the Field Museum is the most important repository in the world of research collections and literature pertaining to the classification of this important genus.


Lichens occur in virtually all ecosystems, where they play an important role in water and nutrient cycles and in the vegetation succession on soil, rock, and bark surfaces. This project is the first inventory of tropical lichens on a continental scale, focusing on small epiphytic lichens. The inventory is expected to document approximately 3,000 species in 160 genera and 30 families.

Neotropical Herbarium Specimens

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.

Singer Index

Rolf Singer was a leading figure in mycology. He was a prolific writer and held important academic and research positions in Europe, North America and South America. He was a Research Associate in the Department of Botany, The Field Museum, from 1968-1994. Singer developed the nearly universally used classification for the Agaricales (mushrooms and related fungi) and named 86 genera, over 2460 species and infraspecies of fungi distributed in 222 genera.

Tropical Lichen Types (TROPILIT)

This database contains information on type specimens of tropical lichens, with emphasis on corticolous crustose species in the orders Arthoniales (Arthoniaceae, Roccellaceae), Dothideales (Trypetheliaceae), Pyrenulales (Pyrenulaceae), Ostropales (Graphidaceae, Porinaceae, Thelotremataceae), and Lecanorales (Lecanoraceae, Pilocarpaceae, Ramalinaceae).


A botanical type is a specimen selected to serve as a permanent reference for a newly named species. These specimens are extremely important to the botanical community because they help researchers determine the correct application of a particular name. The herbarium of the Botany Department at The Field Museum holds approximately 33,700 vascular plant type specimens, of which about 27,000 were collected in the New World tropics.