Botany Projects

The Global Plants Initiative (GPI)




News Flash August 24, 2013!  


Over the past 2 years we have collaborated with smaller botanical research institutions to provide imaging and database assistance for bulky type specimens. All images and metadata from these collaborations are connected with GPI and the JSTOR Global Plants website. The institutions include: University of Texas, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Arizona State University, Rancho Santa Ana, University of Nevada at Reno, University of Idaho, University of Arizona, Huntington Botanical Garden, Centro de Investigaciones Biologicas del Noroeste, and University of Nebraska.




The Global Plants Initiative (GPI) is a world-wide project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. GPI developed from two earlier Mellon-funded projects, Aluka (which began in 2004 and focused on African plants) and LAPI (expanded from Aluka in 2007 to include Latin American plants), whose goals were to make high-resolution digital images of botanical type specimens available to researchers online.  As a result of historic explorations, many early botanical type specimens were removed from their countries of origin and housed in herbaria elsewhere. The main objective of this project is to make these specimens available to a global audience. When complete, the digital resource will host images of approximately 2.2 million plant type specimens and will be a valuable resource for individuals who research, teach, or study botany, biology, and ecology, and for environmental and conservation studies.


Through GPI, data is organized and stored on a JSTOR (an acronym for “journal storage”) online archiving system originally funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In addition to California Academy of Sciences, more than 200 GPI partner institutions have contributed high-resolution type specimen images, as well as collection information, photographs, botanical illustrations, taxonomic and other relevant literature, and related data. To date, more than 1 million type images are available on the JSTOR Plant Science website (  The resource also provides more than 100,000 taxon entries from digitized floras, thousands of photographs of live plants and their habitats, and relevant correspondence, paintings, illustrations, and drawings. Users can search this data online; some search results are linked to taxonomic titles stored by JSTOR.



The California Academy of Sciences began active participation in 2008 with our Latin American and African botanical type specimen images and transitioned into the project’s global effort. As of early 2011, we have submitted more than 10,000 images representing the majority of our type specimens.


To ensure that the images can be compared accurately online, all GPI partners follow a common protocol when scanning. Images are made using the HerbScan™, a device developed by Andrew McRobb, photographer at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The HerbScan supports the type specimen face-up on a foam-covered support; a pulley system gently raises the specimen to an inverted scanner (modified to operate “upside-down” and with the lid removed), and a scan is made at 600 dpi. Each image is approximately 200 MB in size and includes a barcode specific to the home institution, a standardized color chart, and a short metric ruler. When the image is viewed online, a magnified version can be observed with a calibrated measuring tool, ensuring accurate measurements to fractions of millimeters. Small details involving shape, texture, and trichome form and density are easily viewed online.


Some type specimens are too bulky to scan. Partners at Kew have developed a camera set-up that is portable so that one camera can capture images for several institutions. The high resolution of this camera allows the creation of images that are comparable in quality to the scanned images of flat specimens. The Botany department has received funding from generous donors and from the Mellon Foundation to continue the imaging project with the high resolution camera. Today, we are working with this camera on the completion of our bulky specimen images and helping partner institutions get images of their type specimens as well.


Immediate benefits of the GPI initiative include electronic access to type specimen images by more than one researcher simultaneously without the need to travel to repository institutions and a significant reduction in type specimen loans with a corresponding reduction in potential loss or damage during shipment.




The California Wildflowers website is dedicated to the memory of Sherman Chickering.


Mr. Chickering was a prominent attorney in San Francisco, practicing securities and utility law at Chickering and Gregory, a law firm founded by his grandfather in the 1870's.


During his life time Mr. Chickering was dedicated to the appreciation of the natural world. He was a life member of the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society, the California Wildlife Federation, and was a member of the Sierra Club, the California Waterfowl Association, and the Nature Conservancy. He was a member of the California Fish and Game Commission, serving three times as its president.

Most proudly for this institution, Mr. Chickering joined the Board of Trustees in 1972, and served as trustee and honorary trustee until his death in 1993. This affection with the California Academy of Sciences reinforced Mr. Chickering's first love: botany. He was an ardent student and collector of California wildflowers and a significant participant in the effort to produce The Jepson Manual at the University of California, Berkeley.


Among many thoughts and remembrances that Mr. Chickering recorded in a journal, he wrote the following:  "I think I am most proud of the herbarium and botany of wildflowers I have collected in the area of the North Fork of the American River. My eight volumes of photographs and pressed flowers have been poured over by some of the foremost botanists of the state. I hope that they will forerun an era in which colored photographs will assume a significant place in herbarium collections."

In memory of Mr. Chickering's death in 1993, friends made significant contributions to the California Academy of Sciences so that his vision could be realized.  Academy staff, including Frank Almeda, Curator of Botany, and Roy Eisenhardt, a former Academy Director, have photographed and documented a selection of California wildflowers. To this point, over 125 species have been photographed and samples collected for inclusion into the permanent collections at the Academy.


Thanks to the generous assistance of William Hewlett and the late David Packard, who donated this computer equipment, the Academy has been able to take the process one step further. This project provides visitors with the means of appreciating the beauty of those flowers, increasing opportunities for visual identification, and provides a resource for further research on the various species.
















































Flora of China


The Flora of China project is an inter-institutional international project to produce the first English language flora of China. The Botany Department of the California Academy of Sciences is one of the editorial centers for this project. The flora will be published in 25 volumes covering all the vascular plants of China. There will also be a companion 25 volumes of line drawings illustrating about 40% of the taxa in the text volumes. This flora is a revision of the Chinese language Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae, the first volume of which was published in 1959 and the final volumes of which are to be completed soon. So far 6 volumes of the Flora of China have been published as well as 5 volumes of illustrations. The Flora of China is being published jointly by Science Press, Beijing and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.

The Flora of China project has 10 additional centers: Harvard University Herbaria, the Royal Botanical Garden (Edinburgh), the Smithsonian Institition, the Royal Botanic Garden (Kew), the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (Paris), the Missouri Botanical Garden (the organizational and coordination center), the Institute of Botany (Beijing), the Kunming Institute of Botany, the Jiangsu Institute of Botany (Nanjing), and the South China Institute of Botany (Guangzhou).


Additional information about the Flora of China project as well as a great deal of botanical resources concerning Chinese plants, including the complete text of the published volumes and unpublished manuscripts, can be found on the Flora of China web site developed and maintained by the Harvard University Herbaria.

Planetary Biodiversity Inventory of Miconieae (Melastomataceae)


A collaborative effort led by scientists from The New York Botanical Garden, the University of Florida, the Universidade Federal de Paraná, and the California Academy of Sciences, along with several collaborators in the US, Latin America and Europe, will produce a complete taxonomic inventory and description of the tribe Miconieae (Melastomataceae).  This is a group of over 1800 species from the Americas, mostly of trees and shrubs from tropical rain and montane forests. The Miconieae are ecologically important due to their diversity and number of individuals in forest understories, and as an important food source for birds and mammals. The Miconieae also include two of the worst plant invasives in the Hawaii and South Pacific Islands (Koster’s curse [Clidemia hirta] and purple plague [Miconia calvescens]). The project will comprehensively review all of the 1,800 species, combining studies in the field, herbarium, and laboratory.  All of the information generated by the study will be available online through a dedicated module of NYBG’s botanical database, the Virtual Herbarium, and will include complete descriptions, images, keys for their identification, and distribution maps for each species. Maps will be automatically generated from databased specimens from all institutions involved in the project, as well as from materials examined from other major herbaria.  This database will be instrumental in classifying the large back log of specimens of neotropical Melastomataceae held at herbaria throughout the world. The project will also train postdoctoral associates and graduate students in the US and Latin America on the tools of modern monographic treatments and nomenclature.  Local scientists will be integral part of the field work and will also be trained, and an intensive course for Latin American students and scientists on the systematics and taxonomy of the Melastomataceae will take place during the third year of the project. 



Project website:



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