Databasing and georeferencing historical collections to discover potential sites for rare and endangered plants of New York, U.S.A.


  • Carol L. Kelloff Smithsonian Institution, NMNH, Botany
  • Lee B. Kass L.H. Bailey Hortorium, Plant Biology Sect., and Plant Breeding and Genetics Sect., School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University



New York, Chemung County, flora, Thomas F. Lucy, rare plants, endangered plants, historical collections


Over 400 years of natural history inventories of preserved specimens and vouchers in museums and research institutions are now important repositories of invaluable information and permanent records documenting life on earth. Plant collections, in particular, play roles in understanding climate change, conservation modeling, molecular and medicinal studies, invasive-species management, and biodiversity assessments. Researchers reexamine these collections in order to establish conservation priorities for threatened and endangered taxa. Herbarium specimens, spanning many decades, can provide data on a natural population’s geographical range and its shift over time. Although historical specimens provide valuable information about past distributions, label information may lack geographic coordinates or precise locations, or may have descriptions that are too vague or confusing to be useful. Here we present a case study for plant specimens collected by Thomas F. Lucy in the late 1800’s in Chemung County, New York. The goal of this research was to determine if Lucy’s label localities could be improved using historical land use and topographic maps, and georeferenced using Google Earth©. Lucy documented 134 plant families for the Chemung County area: 106 species of flowering plants (ca. 982 taxa, excluding hybrids), 12 fern and fern allies (48 taxa), 13 mosses (21 taxa), and one species each for lichens, liverworts, and algae. Nine taxa are noteworthy for the state of New York. Fourteen taxa are listed as endangered, threatened, or unknown: Chaerophyllum procumbens (Apiaceae), Arabis shortii (Brassicaceae), Cacalia suaveoleus and Lactuca floridana (Compositae), Carex retroflexa (Cyperaceae), Hydrangea arborescens (Hydrangeaceae), Allium cernuum and Chamaelirium luteum (Liliaceae), Liparis lilifolia and Platanthera hookeri (Orchidaceae), Polygonum erectum (Polygonaceae), Lysimachia quadrifolia (Primulaceae), Geum virginianum (Rosaceae) and Vitis vulpine (Vitaceae). Nine other plants are recommended for protection: Panax quinquefolius (Araliaceae), Rudbeckia fulgida (Compositae), Carex conjuncta (Cyperaceae), Pterospora andromedea (Ericaceae), Aesculus grabra (Hippocastanaceae), Epilobium ciliatum (Onagraceae), Cypripedium arietinum (Orchidaceae), and Calamagrostis porteri and Panicum scoparium (Poaceae).


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How to Cite

Kelloff, C. L., & Kass, L. B. (2018). Databasing and georeferencing historical collections to discover potential sites for rare and endangered plants of New York, U.S.A. Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 12(1), 323–368.