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Zoo Herbarium Comes to UNC Pembroke

UNC Pembroke Herbarium

Plant sciences are critical to the Biology curriculum at UNC Pembroke, and for years these disciplines have benefitted from a collection of dried, pressed plants (herbarium vouchers).  Last August the herbarium collection grew by more than 50% -- from approximately 4500 specimens to 7000 specimens -- with the acquisition of the herbarium from the North Carolina Zoological Park.  Biology alumna (2003) Nell Allen spearheaded the acquisition. 

Nell worked as curator and collector for the Zoo herbarium.  She used the Zoo’s living collection of rare plants, as well as herbarium vouchers, to educate the public about the fascinating world of plants.  Herbarium vouchers can potentially last forever, and as physical representatives of once living plants, they serve as valuable reference materials, while documenting the flora and biogeography of regions.  Vouchers are critical for molecular studies of plant evolution and for species delimitation.  Shortly before Nell’s retirement from the Zoo last summer, the Zoo offered its herbarium to UNC Pembroke, where the collection might have a greater impact. 

The Zoo herbarium includes approximately 2600 specimen records, representing 1400 species.  Most of its plants were collected from the immediate vicinity of the zoo, but cultivated plants and exotic plants common to the diets of zoo animals are also in the collection.  The collection was the brainchild of the herbarium’s first curator and primary collector, Pete Diamond, a horticulturist turned botanist with an artistic flair and exquisite attention to detail.  His vouchers are works of art.

Prior to the acquisition, the UNC Pembroke Herbarium included approximately 4500 specimen records, representing 2200 species, collected primarily during the 1950s and 1960s by the late Albert Radford (UNC Chapel Hill) and his colleagues in preparation of the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas.  More recently, the herbarium has archived the flora of Huggins Island (Onslow County, NC), Sampson’s Landing (Robeson County, NC), the UNCP Campus Garden (a work in progress), and the fall flora of the nature trail in the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center (Robeson County).

In 2018, both the UNCP herbarium and the Zoo herbarium were digitized/imaged and then made publicly available on the SERNEC (SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections) website.  Digitization was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation and by the grant’s principal investigator, Alexander Krings of North Carolina State University.  UNCP Biology majors Robbie Juel and Amanda Gallavan assisted with digitization, and Carol Ann McCormick, Curator of the UNC Chapel Hill Herbarium, continues to database voucher label information and to peruse the collection for accuracy.   

The UNC Pembroke Herbarium is located in the Oxendine Science Building. The collection is used in course instruction, faculty and student research, and in public outreach.  Much work remains to organize and file the Zoo vouchers, but the herbarium is available to interested faculty, students, and visitors.  People who wish to visit the herbarium should contact the herbarium director, Lisa Kelly, Ph.D. (; phone 910-521-6377).