The Lichen Collection at the Michigan State University Herbarium

The lichen collection of the Michigan State University Herbarium (MSC) totals nearly 110,000 accessioned specimens from many regions of the world.  Specifically, there are excellent holdings from North America (Eastern seaboard of the US and Canada, Great Lakes region, the Pacific Coast of Canada, and alpine areas of the Rocky Mountains), southern South America, (Falkland Islands, Juan Fernandez Islands, Tierra del Fuego, Isla de los Estados, Brunswick Peninsula, Straights of Magellan), New Zealand (South Island, Campbell Island, Auckland Islands), the Kerguelen Islands, the Caribbean Islands and the Canary Islands.  The herbarium also maintains over 10,000 exsiccati specimens, many of which are not otherwise available in North America. This extensive collection was assembled largely through the efforts of Dr. Henry A. Imshaug, the curator of the Cryptogamic Herbarium from 1958-1990, but has never been easily accessible because material from the lichen collection was rarely available on loan, whereas more recently the collection was inactive because it lacked a curator. However, a recent U. S. National Science Foundation (NSF) award (DEB-9808735) has lead to the re-activation of the collection, which is now fully available to researchers.

Dr. Imshaug was hired as Assistant Curator of the cryptogamic collection in 1956, at the same time as Dr. John H. Beaman became Curator of the Michigan State University Herbarium (MSC).  Two years later the cryptogamic collections were consolidated into a separate administrative unit and Dr. Imshaug was named Curator of the Cryptogamic Herbarium, with Dr. Beaman continuing as Curator of the Beal-Darlington Herbarium.  The Cryptogamic Herbarium held only lichens, non-lichenized fungi and bryophytes whereas all the vascular plants, including the gymnosperms and pteridophytes, were held in the Beal-Darlington Herbarium.  At the time of separation the collections were said to comprise about 115,000 specimens of vascular plants and nearly 40,000 lichens, bryophytes and fungi.

In the summer of 1968, the Herbarium moved to its present location in the Plant Biology Building - an area built to permit expansion of the collection - and both herbaria experienced rapid growth.  At the time of Dr. Imshaug’s retirement in 1990, the cryptogamic collection was estimared to number over 145,000 fully accessioned specimens, with an additional 200,000 unmounted specimens remaining in separate research collections.  The accessioned specimens were superbly curated – only 100% rag paper used, one specimen per herbarium sheet, neatly typed labels that for the Sub-Antarctic collections included a map indicating the location from which the specimen was collected, and all arranged in color-coded folders for geographical area.  Unfortunately, the unaccessioned specimens were less well-curated and required a considerable amount of re-organization.

Dr. Imshaug retired in 1990, and in 1993 the Cryptogamic Herbarium was decommissioned as an administrative unit and the collection incorporated back into the main Michigan State University Herbarium. Since then, the MSU Herbarium has undertaken a program to reorganize the lichen collection and to address the many curatorial problems associated with the un-accessioned collections.

The herbarium director at the time of reintegration, Dr. Jose Panero, instigated a program to reorganize the lichen collection: long overdue loans were returned, approximately 60,000 specimens were sent out on exchange or as gifts, and thousands of unfiled, unaccessioned specimens were organized and refiled. Dr. Panero also applied for an NSF Award to install a compactor and hire a collections assistant to complete the re-organization of the lichen collection. Although this proposal was rejected, a revised version was successfully submitted by his successor, Dr. Alan Prather.

The NSF award and cost-sharing from Michigan State University provided funding for the installation of a compactor system in the room housing the lichen collection. This room now holds 195 cabinets, an increase in storage space of over 50%, and has adequate space to accession the backlog of specimens, those obtained via exchange with other institutions, and collections from MSU researchers. Dr. Alan Fryday, a specialist lichenologists, was originally hired on the NSF award to curate the lichen collection but was soon transferred to the permanent herbarium staff as the Assistant Curator. The award provided money for curatorial improvements, including accessioning many of the backlog specimens and re-organizing the collection. The Australasian collections have been separated from the Old World specimens, with which they were previously filed, and the whole collection is now filed, within each genus, by species and then color-coded geographic regions (i.e. N. America, Michigan, Caribbean Islands, Central & South America, Australasia and Old World), rather than by species within geographical region. The final stage in re-organizing the accessioned collections was to update the nomenclature used and refile specimens under their most current name. A recount of the collection was also undertaken, which resulted in a revised estimate of around 110,000 lichen specimens

In 2003, a further NSF Award was made to the herbarium to computerize the label data from the complete lichen collection. This project is now completed, with over 112,000 specimens entered into a searchable on-line specify database. This has allowed us to confirm our earlier estimate of the numbers and geographical distribution of our holding. During the course of this second award we have continued to accession collections, which are identified to at least genus, into the herbarium, thus reducing the backlog and setting aside dupicates for distribution to other herbaria.

A large number of lichen collections remain unaccessioned. These are almost entirely additional collections of Dr. Imshaug and his students, and are stored in cardboard shoe boxes, mostly inside herbarium cabinets. Dr Imshaug and his students prepared pre-printed labels for most of the specimens and these are, in most cases, included in the packets. They also identified a large proportion of these specimens to, at least, genus and wrote the identifications directly on the packets. However, these determinations are in need of revision due to taxonomic and nomenclatural advances made during the intervening years and much work remains to be done before they can be reliably accessioned into the herbarium. The unaccessioned collections number ca. 20,000 specimens and, although it is difficult to determine how many are duplicates, it is anticipated that when these collections have been processed around half (c. 10,000 collections) will be accessioned into MSC and the remainder distributed to other herbaria.

The geographical distribution of the accessioned specimens in the lichen collection of MSC is given in Table 1.  Previous lichen collections from many of these areas were often made by botanists who did not specialize in lichenology and, consequently, they collected mainly conspicuous macrolichens and largely overlooked, or ignored, the numerous crustose microlichens, especially those growing on rock.  Dr. Imshaug paid due attention to these groups and, in the case of many of the austral and Caribbean localities, the collections in MSC are the most thorough ever made from these area.

  By far the largest proportion of specimens accessioned into the collection are from North America, with approximately half of these (c. 27,000 collections) originating from the Great Lakes Region, mainly Michigan and Ontario.  These figures have been obtained from the records of the collectors and it is possible that they are an over-estimate because, until the collection is databased, we have no way of checking if all these collections were actually accessioned into MSC.  A further c. 18,000 collections are from northwestern North America with important collections from Alaska (c. 1,000), the northwest USA (c. 4,750), and British Columbia (3,250).  Eastern North America is less well represented although MSC does hold Brodo’s collections from Long Island (4,020) and Taylor’s from Maine and Nova Scotia (2,505).  The collections from the Caribbean Islands were mostly made between 1952 and 1963 and total nearly 15,000 specimens.  These include over 3,000 collections from Jamaica, c 2,500 from Puerto Rico (made by Landrón in 1967-68) and over 1,000 from Haiti and The Dominican Republic.  There are also significant collections from Cuba, St Lucia, St Vincent, Tobago, Trinidad and Dominica.

The Southern Hemisphere collections are mainly from southern South America or the Australasian Sub-Antarctic Islands.  The South American holdings include significant collections from the Juan Fernandez Islands (1,624), the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) (2,738), the Brunswick Peninsula and the Straights of Magellan in southern Chile (4,013), and Tierra del Fuego (2,193) and Isla de los Estados (Staten Island) (3,554) in southern Argentina.  From Australasia there are large collections  from South Island, New Zealand (2,319), the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic islands, Campbell Island (2,998) and the Auckland Islands (1,636) as well as Kerguelen Island in the southern Indian Ocean (1,893).

The MSC lichen collection includes specimens from approximately 4000 taxa, but in addition to its overall size, geographical diversity, and comprehensive coverage it also includes an extensive collection of exsiccati, many type specimens and numerous other collections of historical significance.  There are over 10,000 specimens among the exsiccati, including about 70 sets - though not all are complete.  It is difficult to estimate the number of types in the collection, but over 120 potential types have been located while performing unrelated curatorial duties.  Both the exsiccati and type specimens are housed separately from the main body of the collection.

Dr. Imshaug was an extremely careful and thorough worker.  He was also a perfectionist who did not publish ‘interim’ results or describe new species on their own.  He preferred to tie everything up in one definitive package and, consequently, his published output was low.  His prodigious knowledge of lichens, thorough familiarity with the literature, and careful research resulted in his discovering numerous new species, and even genera, among his collections and over 100 of these taxa were given herbarium names under which they were accessioned and filed.  He was working towards major lichen floras of the Great Lakes Region and the Sub-Antarctic, the latter, in particular, an extremely optimistic undertaking for one person, and he fully intended to publish these names when his work was completed.  Some of the new taxa that he discovered have subsequently been described under different names (e.g. the genus Poeltidea Hertel, the genus and species Labyrintha implexa Malcolm, Elix & Owe-Larsson, and the species Chroodiscus australis Kantvilas & Vezda), while material of others has now been loaned to workers specializing in specific genera (e.g. Lecidea, Placidiopsis, Placopsis, Rinodina).

The value of the collection is demonstrated by the many publications that have been based, at least partly, on MSC specimens in recent years.  In addition to use in taxonomic and floristic studies (Fryday 2000a, Guderley 1999, Lindbolm 1997, Messuti, & Archer 1998, Stenroos 1996, Wetmore 1994 & 1996 and Wetmore & Kärnefelt, 1999), new species have been described (Fryday & Common in press, Kantvilas & Vezda 2000, Messuti & Archer 1999), distributions modified (Fryday 2000b & d), and major disjunctions discovered (Ahti 1998, Fryday 2000c).  Specimens from MSC have also been distributed as part of an exsiccati (Wetmore 1999).

The Michigan State University Herbarium is actively growing and between 1993-1998 lichens have accounted for 62% of the total number of accessions.  During this period, the number of accessioned lichens has increased by over 18 000 and we anticipate that lichens will continue to be accessioned at this, or an even higher, rate as the back-log of collections is processed and additional material is received in return for that sent out on exchange.

After an interlude of 10 years since Dr. Imshaug’s retirement lichenological research and curation is again being pursued at Michigan State University.  The first author has been appointed to the permanent position of assistant curator of the herbarium and is actively engaged in curating Dr. Imshaug’s collection.  He is also describing new species and working towards checklists/catalogues of the regions visited by Dr. Imshaug and his students.

In addition, as a preliminary step towards data-basing the complete lichen collection, supplemental funding has been provided by the NSF to produce an annotated checklist of the Lichens of Michigan.  This has recently been accepteded for publication (Fryday et al. in ed.) and is also available, in a different format, on this web-site.  The collection of lichen exsiccati is also in the process of being entered into a data-base.

Over the last two years many lichenologists have visited the lichen collection at MSC to conduct specimen based research, many of them courtesy of the NSF award to MSC to re-activate Dr. Imshaug’s collection.  MSC also now has an active loans and exchange program.  Loans have been made to numerous herbaria and researchers world-wide, and duplicate material distributed to many others.  Many of these gifts were of more than 500 specimens and several of over 1,000.  As the backlog of material from North and South America, the Caribbean, and Australasia is processed, more material will be distributed as exchange and we welcome exchange material in return that enhances the current geographical foci of the lichen collection.  We anticipate, and hope, that the number of loans and visits will increase as lichenologists become aware of the reactivation and availability of Dr. Imshaug’s valuable collections.

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