Welcome to the Herbarium
The Museum of Southwestern Biology houses New Mexico’s largest herbarium. An herbarium is a collection of preserved plants stored, catalogued, and arranged for study by professionals and amateurs from many walks of life. Our focus is mainly to document and preserve a record of the flora of the state. We have 130,000 specimens; most are from New Mexico and the southwestern U.S. Our primary international holdings are from Mexico. As the fifth largest state we are relatively unexplored and species new to science are still being discovered, documented, and described. Our specimens represent over 7700 species and serve as a reference for what’s been documented within our region.
Our collections are used by scientists, plant enthusiasts, artists, archaeologists, anthropologists, geologists, and, occasionally for uses we hadn’t anticipated. It is interesting that, after over 100 years, the potential uses of this collection are still unfolding and answering questions we never could have anticipated.
History of the Herbarium
The UNM Herbarium has a long history stretching back to the turn of the last century. The first attempt to establish a Herbarium at the University of New Mexico was short-lived. Clarence Luther Herrick, the second UNM President (1897-1901), started an herbarium collection but it was destroyed in a fire.
In 1928 Edward Castetter developed the herbarium, contributing nearly 10,000 personal collections in his 25 years at UNM. Castetter and his students vouchered plants in what was, and remains, a relatively unexplored and under-collected state flora. His interest in plant diversity was paralleled by his interest in traditional native-American uses of plants. He documented local agriculture in the Mohave, Cocopa, Maricopa, Pima and Tohono O’odham cultures as well as the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache in his ethnobotanical research program which he developed into one of the largest in the U.S. at the time.
Between 1953 and 1958 Ray C. Jackson was the curator. His research focused on cytogenetics and systematics of the Asteraceae (the sunflower family).
William C. Martin was the curator for the next 31 years. Serving in this capacity from 1958 to 1989, Martin co-authored “A Flora of New Mexico.”
Since 1990, Timothy K. Lowrey has been the curator of our collection. His primary focus has been on biosystematics and molecular studies of the Asteraceae. He contributed to the Flora Neomexicana Vol. III in 2012 by writing a treatment for our largest family, the Asteraceae. Flora Neomexicana is a print-on-demand flora for the state available at www.lulu.com. It is updated periodically as needed.
The herbarium contains more than 130,000 mounted specimens which serve as a reference collection primarily used by botanists and ecologists but also by anthropologists, archaeologists, artists, geologists, and people from all walks of life, including detectives from the FBI. This herbarium is the most extensive plant collection for our fifth largest state and consists of 390 plant families, 1914 genera, and 7728 species. The majority of our specimens are flowering plants from the Southwest, with an emphasis on vascular plants from New Mexico. Lesser represented groups include ferns, fern allies, lichens, fungi, and mosses. The Herbarium also has a type collection as well as pollen and seed reference collections.