LDI Orchid Type Digitization Project
Advances in photography and distribution of digital information have allowed us to place images of all of our types and specimens of historical or diagnostic value on the Internet, accompanied not only by label data, but also in many cases by their protologue, the original description of the species, and associated illustration(s). The digital collection can be accessed on the Herbaria Database.
During 1985 and 1986, important specimens in the Ames collection, as determined by now retired Curator Leslie Garay, were photographed and a microfiche edition prepared and made available to the botanical community. Its distribution was hampered by its high cost and the limited usefulness of the medium. This earlier effort to document and share the specimens with minimized risk of harming them served as both a model and a cautionary tale for the LDI project team.
The Harvard University Herbaria (HUH), with sponsorship from the HUH Botany Libraries, was funded by Harvard University's Library Digital Initiative (LDI) to provide online access to an estimated 7,050 type specimens of Orchidaceae, and 8900 pages of associated published text and illustrations that include original descriptions, or protologues, for about 2000 of the type specimens. These resources were made available to the public from the Harvard University Herbaria's web-based Index of Botanical Specimens. All of the digitized specimens and text were stored using the University's Digital Repository Service (DRS).
The study of plant diversity depends upon verification of research materials by comparison with designated type specimens and protologues. The herbarium and library collections in Orchidaceae were ideal candidates for special project attention because of their importance to a large research and horticultural community - they are considered second only to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in geographic coverage and detailed documentation.
The LDI Orchidaceae Type Specimen Project (LDI Orchid Project) focused on orchid type specimens and others with historical significance or diagnostic value. A type specimen is a specimen that is tied to the naming of the species and serves as the permanent record of the plant that is being named. Subsequent researchers relate other specimens to that type by finding and examining the type material. First published in volumes that are now often rare and out-of-print, the protologue descriptions of many of the project's specimens are not readily accessible.
The project sought to facilitate study of these rare plants by providing high-quality digital scans of the original protologues as well as images of the herbarium sheets that contain preserved plant material and other descriptive information. Access to both parts of the plant's record would be linked to its record in the HUH online Index of Botanical Specimens. Digital access to type specimen records by graduate and undergraduate students for teaching and reference would be easy and straightforward. It would also protect and conserve the type specimens from the wear and tear of frequent handling. In a similar fashion, electronic access to the original published descriptions would reduce handling of fragile and rare books and journals. The goal was to create a seamless integrated resource for Harvard researchers and plant scientists world-wide.
Dr. Gustavo Romero is responsible for curation of the Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium and has been the collection's keeper since 1988. He was Project Manager for the LDI scanning project. Current Orchid Research focuses on monographs of several genera in subtribes Catasetinae and Zygopetalinae and floristic work in the upper Orinoco (Venezuela) and Rio Negro (Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela) river basins, which includes an active program of exploration in this region.