Selby Gardens Awarded Prestigious National Science Foundation Grant

August 30, 2018

The funding supports the digital preservation of its renowned herbarium epiphyte collection, including orchids and bromeliads.



Marie Selby Botanical Gardens was recently awarded a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in support of digitization of the botanical garden’s preserved epiphytic plant collection, which is widely used in scientific research.

Over the course of its more than 40-year history, Selby Gardens botanists have conducted research expeditions in more than 200 locales, exchanged herbarium specimens with 192 institutions and swapped live plants with 114 botanical institutions around the world. Now, thanks to this grant funding, Selby Gardens’ scientific staff will be able to digitize a significant portion of its collection of preserved epiphyte specimens, and make them easily accessible to the global scientific community.

“Among botanists, it is known that Selby Gardens has one-of the best scientifically-documented collection of orchids and bromeliads. Through this grant, we will be able to share this vast knowledge with many more individuals and institutions worldwide,” said Jennifer O. Rominiecki, President and CEO of Selby Gardens.

The NSF grant is part of a massive effort to digitize herbarium collections of universities, natural history museums and botanical gardens throughout the United States. A global network called IDigBio is the clearinghouse to receive the millions of digitized specimens.

The project is called the Endless Forms Thematic Collection Network, a group of U.S. herbaria that have major collections of certain types of plants, including epiphytes, succulents and carnivorous plants. Selby Gardens was invited to be part of the team due to its significant epiphyte collection. Selby Gardens’ botanists will digitize 50,000 specimens for the network, which has an overall goal of digitizing two million specimens in three years.

“Anyone will be able to go online and see where the specimens are found on earth, both in herabia where the specimens are maintained, as well as where they occur in nature, so we will be able to paint a much more complete picture of plant diversity and distribution,” said Bruce Holst, Vice President of Botany at Selby Gardens. “Cataloguing and digitizing the vast resources held by the world’s scientific institutions is key to our efforts in conserving plant species in their natural habitats.”

Beyond digitization, the project encompasses full databasing, capturing all the information from the labels, and includes geo-referencing for specimens lacking coordinates.

“This project demonstrates the collaborative nature of our work. No one institution can do it all,” Holst said.

Some 16 other institutions are involved, including top-tier research universities and natural history museums such as The New York Botanical Garden, Harvard University, Missouri Botanical Garden and Field Museum of Natural History. Selby Gardens is one of four botanical gardens chosen to participate. The grant will fund a one-year temporary position plus imaging equipment and travel money to attend two conferences.

The combined effort by many institutions is what botanists worldwide can use to definitively say ‘this species has this range of distribution at this point of time,’ Holst said. Years from now when such a plant is measured again, by Holst’s team or any other scientists, we will be able to see if there have been significant changes in the plants’ flowering/fruiting periods or its distribution.

“This is critical work as climate change affects where particular plants will grow,” Holst said.

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About Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a living museum and the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns and other tropical plants with a focus on botany, horticulture and environmental education. For more information, please visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas. Regular admission is $20 and $10 children ages 4-17; members and children 3 and under enter free. Contact us at (941) 366-5731 or Get social with us on Facebook, Instagram and more by searching @selbygardens.


Tags: botanical database, botany, digital preservation, herbaria, herbarium, marie selby botanical gardens, selby gardens