Project Magnolia grandiFLORA is an effort to digitize herbaria throughout Mississippi and to provide scientific and educational resources to the citizens of Mississippi and researchers around the world. The project is named in honor of the state’s official flower and tree, Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). We are funded by the National Science Foundation to begin these efforts in the herbaria at the University of Mississippi (Dr. Lucile McCook), Mississippi State University (Dr. Lisa Wallace), Delta State University (Dr. Nina Baghai-Riding), the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science (Ms. Libby Hartfield, Ms. Heather Sullivan, Ms. Angel Rohnke), and the University of Southern Mississippi (Dr. Mac Alford). A portion of the collection at the Institute for Botanical Exploration, previously housed at MSU, and the Gulf Coast Research Collection, now housed at USM, are also being digitized through this project. Collectively, these herbaria contain more than 400,000 herbarium sheets. In this project, we aim to digitize approximately 250,000 of these specimens, focusing on collections of the southeastern U.S. In the future, we hope to expand digitization efforts to other collections throughout the state.
Why Digitize the Specimens?
Natural history collections, much like libraries, are important reservoirs of historical information about biodiversity and contribute to many areas of science and society, including systematics, ecology, environmental management, agriculture, and medicine. These collections also provide educational benefits by documenting distributions and providing resources to identify species and their unique features. The preservation of biological collections is essential for maintaining and expanding knowledge about biodiversity, particularly under current levels of habitat modification and biodiversity loss.
How Will the Digitized Data Be Used?
Mississippi ranks in the top third to half of U.S. states for the predicted numbers of plant taxa, species, genera and species per area. Documentation of most species distributions in MS is sparse, representing one of the major gaps in our knowledge of the North American flora. The data set that will be assembled from this project is urgently needed to accurately document biodiversity and understand underlying processes contributing to high biodiversity of the Southeast.
The resulting data set will be used to complete a checklist of all plant species known to occur in Mississippi (a current version is available at the University of Mississippi Pullen Herbarium website), an atlas, which will detail known locations of species, and field keys for identifying species. The specimens and their location data will also be used in research, for example on the ecology of invasive species, the biogeography of rare and endemic species, and taxonomy of species that are difficult to identify.
The Museum of Natural Science is leading the development of educational materials for K-12 teachers and students that can be integrated into the existing Mississippi science education framework. Check out the education link for more details on workshops, activities, and other materials.