E.L. Reed Herbarium at TTU

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Herbarium Prep Space Imaging Station

The EL Reed Herbarium at Texas Tech University houses over 20,000 recorded vascular plant collections from the South Plains, West Texas, and other regions. The Herbarium also contains an estimated 10,000 unrecorded specimens, including specimens untouched since the 1920s. The herbarium opened its doors in 1925 under the leadership of Prof. R.A. Studhalter, who focused on plant anatomy in bryophytes. Dr. E.L. Reed becaome the first director in 1928, and large collections added by Dr. C.M. Rowell, Dr. D.K. Northington, Dr. T. Burgess, and Dr. C.H. Werth added to the collection both geographically and taxonomically. In 2017, Dr. Matthew Johnson became the sixth director of the E.L. Reed Herbarium.

Located on the 7th floor of the Biology building, the Herbarium is a resource for plant systematics and evolution. Dried, pressed plant specimens can be used to help researchers identify species and serve as a record of plant diversity. The collection can be used to track the occurrence of plant species across space and time. Recent advances in molecular systematics makes sampling these antique specimens for DNA sequencing feasible for the first time. Herbarium specimens are an underused resource for phylogenetics in plants, and we are looking forward to using the herbarium in our research.

The Reed Herbarium database is currently housed at the TORCH Portal on Symbiota, which can be accessed here.

See below for herbarium news and ongoing projects!

Herbarium News

18 Jul 2022 by

Re-introducing the Bryophyte Herbarium at Texas Tech!

Although some of the early collectors at Texas Tech College did have an interest in bryophytes (especially the liverwort Riella, there were no recorded bryophytes in the TTC database in 2017. It appears that the bryophyte collection was donated to TAES in the mid-2010s by a previous herbarium director.

As we set out to re-build the Bryophyte collection, we got two large donations of specimens:

A big part of re-building the bryophyte collection has been two large donations of specimens:

  1. The Botanical Research Institute of Texas sent about 200 duplicates of Texas bryophytes made by Eula Whitehouse and others in the 1940s - 1960s.
  2. Taylor S. Quedensley sent duplicates of mosses and liverworts collected in 2019 - 2021 in central Texas.

Hannah Homoya, an undergraduate summer intern in the Herbarium, has been hard at work curating over 300 bryophyte specimens and entering them into our online data portal.

There is often debate about the best way to store bryophyte specimens: the vertical “shoe box” format saves space, but dirt and debris can fall to the bottom of the packet; while arranging packets on herbarium sheets takes a lot of space and is hard to reorganize. We settled on a compromise - specimens arranged in palm boxes by genus. Each palm box can hold a few dozen specimens, slightly overlapping so they can still be easily removed as needed. Hannah did a great job entering all labels and organizing everything into the new cabinet!

In the future we will also be adding stacked macro photography images of specimens and new collections, including some from our colleagues collecting in Antartica. Looking forward to a bright future for bryophyte specimens at Texas Tech!

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Undergrad intern Hannah Homoya with her completed Bryophyte organization Bryum argenteum specimens organized in a palm folder
02 Apr 2022 by

On April 2, 2022, the Herbarium team participated in Ranch Day, a kids event at the National Ranching Heritage Center (NRHC) here in Lubbock!

Ranch Day was in its 53rd year, and is one of the best times to visit the NRHC because all of the authentic ranch houses are on display with folks in period clothes and plenty of activities in Ranching History, Ranching Skills, and Ranching Science. Our activity started with information about Herbaria and specimens, and we covered why it is important for ranchers to know about plants too - to ID grasses and poisonous/dangerous plants. We had example specimens, including our fern from 1892.

Kids could then prepare their very own “herbarium specimen” by selecting from a variety of pressed plants collected around Lubbock. The NRHC provided us with construction paper, glue sticks, and index card so students could label their specimens. We also had protective plastic sleeves to keep the specimens safe as they explored the rest of Ranch Day!

This event was threee years in the making, as we first attempted to attend Ranch Day in April 2019, only to have a cancelation due to sleet, followed by two COVID-imapcted years. Luckily, we still had over 300 pressed plants as spring is quite late this year. We’re already looking forward to Ranch Day 2023!

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The herbarium team at Ranch Day, from left: Kelly Mata, Courtney Miller, Matt Johnson, Chase Bergeron, Yanni Chen Five lucky herbarium specimens on display
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Herbarium team explains the kids’ activity Example specimens prepared by herbarium team
01 Oct 2021 by

We have reached a milestone in our herbarium digitization project - we now have over 10,000 images! This has been a special effort over the last 3 years, done entirely by students - graduate teaching assistants and undergraduates working for course credit or work study.

Our strategy has been to go through the herbarium alphabetically by family- first with the seed-free plants and gymnosperms, then monocots and finally the “dicots.” We have also been hard at work digitizing our Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GUMO) collection, which now has over 1100 specimens!

This semester we have three teams of undergraduates working on digitization, and we’re hopeful that by the end of summer 2022 we will have over 95% of our specimens imaged.

Here is a direct link to all specimens with images. Below are some of my favorites!

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Asplenium resiliens Asclepias asperula
One of our oldest specimens, from 1892 Our local milkweed species
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Centaurea americana Oenothera hartwegii
American basketflower From the Burgess collection

E.L. Reed Herbarium Repository Agreement with GUMO

The Herbarium is pleased to announce a new repository agreement with Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GUMO), designating TTC as the voucher herbarium for all plant materials collected in the Park. Researchers seeking collection permits through GUMO will need to agree to the repository agreement, which allows the researchers to retain specimens for research purposes, but final specimens will be vouchered at E.L. Reed Herbarium. The agreement also gives the TTC Director the authority over loans and destructive sampling of specimens.

The park managers at GUMO selected TTC as we are one of the closest active herbaria to the park (a “short” four hour drive away) and because we maintain the Burgess-Northington collection. As part of an expedition when the Park first opened in the early 1970s, Burgess and Northington collected over 2000 specimens, representing a snapshot of the botanical community from 50 years ago. In the past few years, we have been digitizing the collection, and about 800 specimens have been fully digitized with precise georeferencing.

Texas Tech media published a story on the repository agreement, which covers the history of the collection, current research being conducted in the Johnson Lab, and comments from GUMO park managers. Click here to read the story!

26 Sep 2019 by mossmatters

Assembling Plant Presses

The Herbarium teamed up with Dylan Scwhilk to assemble plant presses for Dr. Scwhilk’s majors-level botany class at Texas Tech. Each press uses about 30 feet of “doorstop wood” purchased locally. We were able to assemble 21 presses in about 6 hours!

Haley and Madeline measure planks for cutting Gluing slats on the presses
Madeline learns to use the nail gun Finished Presses
04 Apr 2019 by mossmatters

Lab Presentations at TTU URC 2019

Each year, the Center for Transformative Undergraduate Experience hosts a three-day event showcasing undergraduate research. Two lab members– Madeline Slimp (TTU Honors ‘21) and Zach Bailey (TTU Honors ‘19)– presented posters this year.

Both of their projects make use of herbarium specimens from our collection of plants of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The collection was made in the early 1970s, and provides a botanical snapshot of the community.

Madeline Slimp: Conservation genomics of plant populations in Guadalupe Mountains National Park using Herbarium Specimens.

Zachary Bailey: The effect of life-history strategies on stomatal characteristics using herbarium specimens from Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Congrats to Zach and Madeline, and thanks for representing the lab and the herbarium!

New Herbarium Logo

We’re pleased to introduce a new logo for the E.L. Reed Herbarium! The logo was designed by lab technician and Biology TTU Graduate School Alumna Haley Hale. The logo depitcts three grasses, Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama) and Bouteloa gracilis (blue grama), to represent the rich diversity of native grasses in the South Plains and Llano Estacado regions. The Reed Herbarium has a large collection of grasses from the region, many of which have been digitized in our online Texas-Oklahoma Regional Consortium of Herbaria (TORCH) portal.

The new logo is part of our continuing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of collections to natural history and botanical research in the 21st century.

Recording Stomata

We are beginning a new project in the herbarium that uses our collection to study the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on plants in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GMNP). The Reed Herbarium at TTU has over 2000 specimens from more than 500 species collected when the park first opened in 1974. This collection will provide us with a window into the physiological stress experienced by plants almost 50 years ago.

Stomata are pores on the underside of leaves and function to let the plant “breathe” carbon dioxide. It has been shown that the density of stomata on leaves is correlated with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere– with more carbon dioxide the plants do not need to breathe as much, so they develop fewer stomata.

In the dry environment of the GMNP, stomata also function to limit water loss. As a result, there may be more physiological pressure to keep the number of stomata low. Using the herbarium collection, students will be able to test whether the expected reduction in stomata over the last 50 years occurred in the GMNP.

This week, undergraduates Zach and Lauren began testing a protocol to efficiently measure stomata on herbarium specimens, which many may remember from high school biology: nail polish! When the polish is painted on the leaves and let to dry, it can be removed using double-sided tape and the impression of stomata can be viewed under a microscope. Zach and Lauren will need to adapt their techniques to a variety of leaf types.

Madeline, Yanni, and Zach paint nail polish on herbarium specimens Closeup of nail polish on underside of leaf
Lauren examines stomata under the microscope Impression of stomata at 10x magnification
18 May 2018 by

Imaging Tutorial

The Spring 2018 semester was bustling with activity in the Herbarium! We made a lot of progress in our digitization efforts, reaching a milestone of 2,000 recorded specimens imaged, with another 800 new specimens added! One of our goals this semester was to develop a set of “best practices” for the herbarium digitization.

As part of her independent research project in the herbarium, undergraduate curatorial assistant Lauren Winfrey produced an awesome tutorial video on how to set up imaging of recorded specimens. Check it out below:

26 Feb 2018 by

The digitization project in the herbarium continues! We are now adding images to our 19,735 recorded specimens.

We were able to assemble an imaging platform using a lot of found and donated materials. The lights were donated by Travis Marsico from Arkansas State Herbarium– they are the same lights seen in their paper in APPS from last summer! We already had a copy stand with a camera attachment, but it was set up in portrait mode, making it difficult to take centered images. With help from Dylan Schwilk and some spare wood, we assembled a new imaging platform that accommodated the lights. It’s looking pretty good:

Reed Herbarium Imaging

The imaging effort is progressing thanks to help from five students who are working in the herbarium this Spring. In addition to imaging our recorded specimens, the students are also taking images of previously unrecorded specimens. Once the images are uploaded to TORCH, they can begin transcribing the label data. Click here to meet the 2018 Reed Herbarium Team!

The images are taken with a Canon DSLR (Rebel SL2) camera and loaded into Canon’s own software. The only processing we do to the images is to rotate them and export as a 2000 x 3000 pixel JPEG image (the RAW image stays on our backup drive). The images are named using the barcode labels, matched to our previously-uploaded database. We then upload the images to the BISQUE server, an image hosting platform driven by Cyverse. Academic usage of BISQUE is free for 100 GB, which should be plenty for all of our specimens (each image is about 2 MB). Next, a script on Symbiota pulls the images from BISQUE, and because of the image names, automatically associates them with specimens in our database.

The system is working really well, and our students are making good progress, with nearly 500 specimens imaged this month! Here’s one of my favorites, and one of our oldest collections: Osmunda from 1893!

30 Oct 2017 by

The TTC Herbarium database is now available online! Click here to view the initial upload of 19,729 records:


It was a big day for the digitization efforts in the Herbarium! As recently as 2014, all of the records were stored on 3-inch floppy disks (the ones all the kids now only recognize as “The Save Icon”). In the following years, while the database was converted and meticulously checked, it was stored as a flat text file, ttc.csv. Although the record was backed up on github, it was not available for the wider community.

We are using the Symbiota online database as our management tool, which so far is working really well. It is easy to edit occurrences, and track changes to each entry. We were also able to use the geolocation script written by Dylan Schwilk to add georeference data to 60% of our specimens. Our regional data portal is through the Texas and Oklahoma Regional Consortium of Herbaria (TORCH), but users can access the full span of herbaria in North America via the specimen from any portal. A big thanks to Ed Gilbert for his help explaining how to get things set up!

I also spoke with Travis Marsico at Arkansas State (STAR) herbarium, who co-authored a paper this year explaining how to effectively digitize a small herbarium. He suggested some improvements to the workflow, including working from a set barcode number from the beginning. We haven’t received our barcodes yet, but plan on adding the barcodes while imaging the specimens, which will make matching images to the online records much easier!

With this in mind, we needed to figure out how to order the specimens, and decided to go “in cabinet order.” Coincidentally, at the very top of our first cabinet (the “seed-free” plants) was a single pressed specimen of Sphagnum! This is currently the only moss catalogued in the herbarium, but as the new director I thought it was fitting that it should serve as the beginning of the digitization effort. Since it was an undetermined specimen, I had some fun keying it out to species, thus forever leaving my mark in the “det by” column!

Here it is, Sphagnum palustre from Angelina County in East Texas, TTC000001:

Sphagnum palustre

27 Oct 2017 by

What is the oldest specimen in the E.L. Reed Hebarium? This humble looking specimen of Stevia salificolia was collected in 1885 in Chiuhuaha, Mexico by Cyrus Pringle. The herbarium at the University of Vermont is named after Pringle, who is known for his cross-bred potatoes (though apparently not related to the potato chip brand of the same name0. According to the UVM website, this specimen would have been from Pringle’s first trip to Mexico.

Stevia is the plant from which the sweetner of the same name is extracted, though usually from a different species Stevia rebaudiana. It is reported that the leaves of Stevia are sweet as sugar, but it is not advisable to taste this herbarium specimen, which likely was treated with Mercuric chloride.

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27 Sep 2017 by

The Texas Tech Herbarium was founded in 1925 when it was Texas Technological College (hence the acronym TTC). These two collections made by Reed himself, along with herbarium co-founder Studhalter, are among the oldest in the collection.

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Kiss-me-quick, Portulaca pilosa Ragweed, Ambrosia psilostachya
Collector: R.A. Studhalter E.L. Reed
September, 1925 June, 1929