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The Illinois State Museum Herbarium

The Illinois State Museum's herbarium contains more than 110,000 specimens. The oldest recorded specimens were collected in 1843, and include two members of the mint family and one of the lily family. Many specimens are from the mid-to-late 1800s, encompassing everything from grasses to trees.

The herbarium originated with a core collection of about 1029 specimens (collected from Illinois) that was likely compiled in 1872 at the Natural History Museum at the Illinois State Normal University in Bloomington, the same year the collection was transferred to the state. The contributors to this core collection were three men, Dr. George Vasey, Elihu Hall, and John Wolf.

    Dr. Vasey (1822 - 1893) was a physician who came to Illinois in 1848. He, with others, organized the Illinois Natural History Survey. He was an accomplished botanist who later became a curator for the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the U. S. National Herbarium in 1872. The Illinois State University's herbarium is named after him.
    Elihu Hall (1822 - 1882), a farmer with a great interest in botany, collected 300 of the original specimens and had a personal collection of 10,000 specimens, the majority of which are now in the herbarium of the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago.
    John Wolf (1820 - 1897) collected about 200 of the original specimens. He was a teacher, then a government assayer, before turning his attention to botany, geology, and entomology. He donated some of his collections to a church, which eventually turned them over to a high school. Most were eventually lost, except for the 200 specimens in the Museum's collection.

The ISM's collections sat in storage until 1938, when Dr. George Fuller, the first curator of botany at the museum, unpacked them and remounted the undamaged specimens on herbarium sheets. Thereafter, the collections at the Illinois State Museum herbarium grew through a variety of contributions from museum curators, individuals, and organizations. Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers made substantial contributions of thousands of specimens and herbarium sheets from 1938 through 1942.

photograph of curators in the fieldSpecimens collected by state park naturalists, scientists from other institutions such as state and private universities, and the state natural history survey are also part of the ISM's herbarium. Individuals, whose primary professions were other than science or botany contributed collections ranging in size from 100 to more than 3,000 specimens. Museum curators continued to expand the collection. Dr. Glen S. Winterringer collected over 9,000 plant specimens from his arrival at the ISM in 1949 and during his tenure as curator from 1956.

Dr. Alfred Koelling joined the botany staff as assistant curator in 1967 and worked with Dr. Winterringer on organizing the herbarium collections. As curator, Dr. Koelling expanded and cared for the herbarium collections until he retired in 2000. Dr. Hong Qian, ISM Associate Curator of Botany, now cares for the herbarium.

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