By Staci Markos, UCB Jepson Herbaria (smarkos@berkeley.edu)

All over the world, dried plant collections are maintained in herbaria. Collections from California date from the early 1800s to the present. Each plant specimen is mounted on a sheet of acid-free paper along with a label that details where and when the plant was collected, who collected it, and other site-specific information. Botanical specimens are an irreplaceable, tangible record of biodiversity at a particular time and place.

Traditionally, herbaria have been used as a resource for the development of taxonomic and floristic treatments including the identification and description of new species. Specimens and their associated data are also used as powerful tools for researchers seeking to answer questions ranging from evolution and local patterns of diversity to larger scale questions like tracking invasive species, natural resource management, and global climate change.

What is the Consortium of California Herbaria (CCH)?
The Consortium of California Herbaria is a gateway to information from California vascular plant specimens that are housed in over 30 participating herbaria. Through a single interface, the CCH serves over 2 million specimen records, 70% of which are georeferenced (i.e., include latitude and longitude). With support from the California Digital Library, the CCH began in 2003 around botanical collections from University of California herbaria; it has quickly expanded into what the CCH is today, a truly collaborative network of herbaria from throughout the state (and beyond).

cch
Why is the CCH important?
Before the CCH existed, the only way for researchers to access plant specimens and their data was to personally visit a herbarium and go into the “stacks”. A few herbaria had online databases but any comparative research entailed accessing data in different formats that could not be readily combined.

The CCH has revolutionized the way these data can be accessed by collating a tremendous amount of information contained on specimen labels from large and small herbaria throughout California and serving these records online at a remarkable scale.