Duke Herbarium Closure

Echoing others, this is really disappointing. While photo-based datasets like iNat are wonderful, they can’t replace physical herbarium samples for a ton of reasons. It’s particularly disturbing given the intensification of ongoing biosphere collapse (what i call the combination of ecosystem collapse and climate change which comorbidly are wreaking so much havoc)…


Duke’s President’s name is Vincent Price huh? Well I guess that name represents horror in more just movies.


Article about this in the NY Times:



It’s weirdly surreal for me. A friend of mine and I just had a meeting today with our local museum about them expanding their newly-renovated herbarium to potentially include fungal specimans; we’ve been working on this for a while, and the news about Duke came out right before this meeting - it’s just crazy to me that in the same conversation about herbarium expansion, we’re sitting there talking about how Duke is just… going to shut down.

Pictures are great but you can’t do microscopy on a picture. You can’t sequence a picture. You’re limited to the details a picture includes, and if the pictures don’t capture all features, well then you’re shit out of luck. Actual physical collections are just too invaluable.


Exactly. If this were some overextended Directional State U. collapsing back into the normal school from whence it came, I would feel more forgiving. But as Radek pointed out, universities are regarded as charitable and their accumulation of wealth as benign in part because there is a social expectation that they will assemble and maintain, “for posterity”, herbaria and art collections and particle accelerators, and other things that are valuable but difficult to coordinate in a purely demotic environment. I would think that even the sort of people who would describe an herbarium as “a bunch of nerd s__t” would agree that universities are supposed to spend money on exactly that.

Suggesting that the collection go to “a facility that has the resources to maintain it for posterity” naturally raises the question “What are you preserving for posterity, and with what resources?” A prudent administrator would not invite this line of inquiry.


Seriously, an 11.6 billion endowment, and they can’t sustain a medium-sized herbarium. Can’t wait to hear what the competing priorities are… No credibility to their statements about it being cost prohibitive - clearly other motivations are at play.


The fact that Duke managed to support the herbarium for half a century while Dr. Wilbur was more-or-less doubling the collection does not match up well, shall we say, with the university saying it’s too expensive now.


I’ve see this as well, in the context of one of my other passions: early 20th Century Women’s History. Small (and not-so-small) museums and historical societies divesting garments (particularly if they’re not flashy) and ephemera. My sewing loft is practically a time warp into the years 1901-1919, and no few of the items have accession tags.

Yup. Sadly, sports programs bring in alumnus money, which usually goes back to the sportsball teams. How else are they going to foot the coachs’ overinflated salaries? :face_with_symbols_over_mouth:

There’s a saying around our house: MBAs ruin everything. (Apologies to anyone who actually has a useful Business degree, such as in International Finance.)

@jagerwin, first I want to say a big thank you for the yeoman work that you and your
colleagues are doing. It’s heartbreaking that it’s even necessary. I’m also deeply disappointed in my home state; my first thought was “what, the Biology department is so caught up in roundball rivalry that they can’t ask U of L to bail them out?” But then, I went looking through University of Louisville’s website to see if I could find information on the collections there—and couldn’t find anything except for the collection at the Med School. I practically grew up on the campus; I know that they used to have Natural History collections. Dr. Bhatnagar showed me some of his collected specimens for my first-grade report on bats. Now, his collection may not be available to students who want to further his research.

Sorry about the personal digression; I just have big, angry thoughts about the whole mess.


Sadly anti-intellectualism is rampant among university administrators.


A podcast about the Duke Herbarium, its fate, and herbaria in general was broadcast and posted today by WBUR and National Public Radio.


The type of traditional taxonomy done at herbaria and other collections isn’t valued, although it’s a foundation on which much of biology is based. It also provides training for people doing field work, conservation, crop protection, etc. Herbaria offer services valued but usually offered for free for farmers, vets, doctors (what is this plant my client’s kid just ate?), etc. This taxonomy doesn’t usually bring in big bucks in terms of grants, so it doesn’t hold the university’s interest. Herbaria aren’t very expensive to run, but a couple full time salaries salaries plus student workers add up, compared to the total of small grants the herbarium brings in. Also, even with compactors, herbaria take up a lot of space – 3 or 4 molecular labs could fit in the space of the herbarium where I do research. It’s easy to overlook the importance of a resource that doesn’t bring in much money. All helped, of course, by fantasizing that other institutions have the resources to transport and store the large Duke herbarium as one unit and make it available to researchers. (Almost certainly, the Duke collection will be broken down.) I feel angry about this.


…and here’s a link to the transcript: NPR On Point: The Hidden Value of Herbariums


Thanks, it’s nice to see it in print, along with the beautiful opening photograph.


I can put myself in their shoes and see what they see. And we have, even at this point, digitized specimens across the world, where herbaria take images of their collections, and then we can share them across the world as well. So it brings you to the place you need to go. Of course, it’s no replacement for being in the field itself, but it is an absolutely amazing resource. Because we don’t all have the time to go to Haiti every week.

and also what we can get out of iNat.


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.