History of the Michigan State University Herbarium

The Herbarium was founded in 1863 with a donation of the private collection of Dennis Cooley, MD, to Michigan Agricultural College. The collection was said to contain some 20,000 specimens. Seven years later Dr. William James Beal was appointed as lecturer in Botany, and he brought with him a collection of about 2000 specimens. The Herbarium began to grow actively after 1883 when Dr. Beal spent much of his time avidly acquiring specimens through purchases and exchanges. In 1888 the building housing the herbarium was burned, but all the collections, except private collections of C. F. Wheeler, were saved. At the time of Dr. Beal's retirement in 1910, the Herbarium had a total of 106,000 accessioned specimens. Because of their nomenclatural and historic importance, many of the specimens acquired during this period are among the most valuable in the collection.

Dennis Cooley, MD

Dr. W. J. Beal

The retirement of Dr. Beal was followed by a period of slower growth. Dr. Ernst A. Bessey was hired as Beal's replacement in 1910 and he was head of the Department from 1910 until 1945. Between the years of 1914 and 1945, Dr. H. T. Darlington was Curator of the Herbarium. Growth of the collection was limited by lack of physical and storage space; only 5000 specimens were accessioned during Dr. Darlington's tenure. In 1925 the University's name was changed to Michigan State College and the official Herbarium acronym (MSC) was set (the University's name was then switched to Michigan State University in 1954).

Dr. H.T. Darlington

Dr. W.B. Drew

Under the guidance of Drs. W. B. Drew and C. L. Gilly the Herbarium moved to a new building housing the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology and several other departments. This allowed the collection to begin to grow again, and an accession numbering system was instituted. In 1951 Dr. Gilly recorded a total of 120,141 specimens for the current holdings. All subsequently added specimens were numbered and a permanent record of all additional specimens has since been maintained. Dr. Gilly resigned 1954 and was replaced by Dr. Quentin Jones, who resigned in 1956.

Dr. C.L. Gilly

Dr. John H. Beaman

Dr. John Beaman was hired in 1956 as Assistant Professor and Assistant Curator of the Herbarium. At the same time, Dr. Henry Imshaug was hired as Assistant Professor and Assistant Curator of the cryptogamic collection. Two years after his appointment, Dr. Imshaug proposed a separate administration for the cryptogamic collection. The Cryptogamic Herbarium at Michigan State University was created by action of the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University, and Dr. Imshaug was named its first Curator. The vascular plant collection was renamed the Beal-Darlington Herbarium, and Dr. Beaman remained as Curator. A separate numbering system was instituted for new accessions to each Herbarium. At the time of separation the Herbarium contained 114,827 vascular plants, and 40,516 cryptogams, of which fungi were the largest component.
During Dr. Beaman's tenure as Curator the Beal-Darlington Herbarium grew at an astounding rate. Over 200,000 specimens were added from 1956-1993. From 1963 to 1968 the Herbarium was housed in the former Chemical Engineering Building (which no longer stands). In the summer of 1968 the Herbarium moved to its present location in the Plant Biology Laboratories building, in a wing specifically built to permit growth of the collections. The vascular plant collection occupied the basement of the two-story east wing of the building, while the Cryptogamic Herbarium moved to three rooms above the vascular plant Herbarium on the first and second floors.From 1958 to 1990, the Beal-Darlington Herbarium acquired significant numbers of specimens from Michigan and Mexico. In 1983, with the support of the U.S. National Science Foundation, the cabinets housing the vascular plant collection were mounted on a compactor system with space for 248 cabinets.  In the same year, Dr. Beaman began studies of the flora of northern Borneo. His enthusiastic dedication to this ongoing project will result in the successful enumeration of the flora of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo. This research continues, and thus far has contributed close to 4000 specimens to the vascular plant collection, and 14,000 specimens for exchange. This activity has provided the Herbarium the opportunity to be recognized as an incipient center for the study of the southeastern Asian Flora.
From 1958 to 1990, the Cryptogamic Herbarium grew to nearly 150,000 accessioned specimens. These were curated as single packets mounted to standard herbarium sheets. An additional 200,000 unmounted lichen specimens remained in separate research collections. Also during this period, the number of bryophyte specimens (mosses and liverworts) in the collection greatly increased. Dr. Imshaug and his graduate students traveled and collected extensively in the West Indies, Canary Islands, Patagonia, and many island groups of the Southern Hemisphere. Together they assembled an extremely valuable collection from many rarely collected regions of the world.

Dr. Henry Imshaug

In 1993 Dr. John Beaman retired as Curator of the Beal-Darlington Herbarium, a position he had held for 37 years. On 1 July 1994, Dr. Beaman became the founding Director of the Institute of Biodiversity and Environment Conservation (IBEC) at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. Dr. Beaman is now an Adjunct Professor Emeritus in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. Following the retirements of Drs. Beaman and Imshaug, the previously separate Beal-Darlington Herbarium and Cryptogamic Herbarium were incorporated into one unit, the Michigan State University Herbarium. The accessions and records for the two collections were also combined, while the physical facilities remain in separate rooms within the same building.


In 1993 Dr. Jose L. Panero was appointed as Director of the Michigan State University Herbarium, with responsibilities over both vascular plants and cryptogams. Dr. Panero performed an extremely valuable service in reactivating and reorganizing the cryptogamic collection. Dr. Panero resigned in 1996 to become Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of the of the Plant Resources Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. J.L. Panero

Dr. L.A. Prather

In 1997 Dr. Alan Prather was appointed as the new Director of the Michigan State University Herbarium and continues in that capacity today. Dr. Prather specializes in floral evolution of the tropical Polemoniaceae and pollination and systematics of Monarda and other mint genera (Lamiaceae). Under Dr. Prather's direction, and with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and Michigan State University, the MSU Herbarium has added over 130 new herbarium cabinets, the lichen collection has been re-activated; placed on a compactor system to provide space for new growth, the label data are being comuterized, and the backlog of tens of thousands of lichen specimens are being made available to the scientific community,the vascular plant collection has been expanded into a new room, and the Herbarium has hired it's first Ph.D. level Assistant Curator, Dr. Alan M. Fryday.


Dr. Fryday is a lichenologist, specializing in the taxonomy and ecology of crustose, saxicolous lichens, with a particular interest in the non-yellow species of the genus Rhizocarpon, and the Porpidiaceae. He is overseeing the re-activation of the lichen collection, concentrating on processing the unaccessioned collections so that they can be accessioned into the herbarium and databased, while also ensuring that information about the collection is made available to the lichenological community.

Dr. A.M. Fryday

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