Indian Virtual Herbarium, biggest database of country’s flora, is a global hit

The portal, with nearly one lakh images of specimens, recorded two lakh hits from 55 countries since its July 1 launch; site to host all of India’s herbaria by 2024

The portal, with nearly one lakh images of specimens, recorded two lakh hits from 55 countries since its July 1 launch; site to host all of India’s herbaria by 2024

With details of about one lakh plant specimens, Indian Virtual Herbarium, the biggest virtual database of flora in the country, is generating a lot of interest and turning out to be an eye-catching endeavour. While herbarium specimens are considered important tools for plant taxonomy, conservation, habitat loss and even climate change, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently described Indian Virtual Herbarium as an example of how digital tools can help us connect to our roots.

in the Mann Ki Baat ‘ episode on July 31, 2022, the Prime Minister spoke about the novel initiative and said that Indian Virtual Herbarium is an interesting collection of plants and preserved parts of plants. “The virtual herbarium also presents a rich botanical diversity of the country. I am convinced that Indian Virtual Herbarium will turn out to be an important resource for research on plants in the country,” Mr. Modi said.

Developed by scientists of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI), Indian Virtual Herbarium was inaugurated by Union Minister of Environment Forest and Climate Change Bhupendra Yadav on July 1 in Kolkata. Only five weeks since its launch, the portal has nearly 2 lakh hits from 55 countries.

Each record in the digital herbarium includes an image of the preserved plant specimen, scientific name, collection locality, and collection date, collector name, and barcode number. The digital herbarium also includes features to extract the data State-wise and users can search plants of their own States which will help them to identify regional plants and in building regional checklists.

The portal includes about one lakh images of herbarium specimens; Director of Botanical Survey of India (BSI) Dr. AA Mao said by the end of this year the number of digitized species will increase to two lakh. “By the 2024, we plan to provide a platform to all the herbaria in the country so that they can display their herbarium collection on the platform,” Dr. Mao said.

Scientists say that there are approximately three million plant specimens in the country which are with different herbaria that are located at zonal centers of BSI and at the Central National Herbarium located at Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden at Howrah in West Bengal.

“Work on the digitization of the specimens started in 2019, and most of the digitization has been done by the BSI. About 52% of our type specimens are from foreign and collected from 82 countries of the world during the British-era,” said Kumar Avinash Bharati, scientist, BSI.

The Indian Virtual Herbarium is also deeply linked with the botanical history of the country. The portal provides most valuable historical collections of botanists like William Roxburgh, Nathaniel Wallich, Joseph Dalton Hooker among others who are considered founding fathers of botany in India.

The digital herbarium has some of the oldest botanical specimens dating as early as 1696. Cyperus procerus was collected between 15 and 20th June, 1696, near Chennai. The oldest type specimen Lepidagathis scariosa was collected in 1817 by Robert Wight. Type specimens are those collections which help in new discoveries and are considered of great significance by botanists and taxonomists. Researchers need to examine the types of the names in order to confirm their identities.

As a priority, the Indian Virtual Herbarium has digitized information with images of 29,615 type specimens on its platform. The herbarium provides information on plants in different categories such as Cryptogams (spore bearing plants). Phanerogams (seed bearing plants). Both the groups are again divided into two categories which include genera; specimen and type specimens.

“The virtual herbarium makes unique images available free of cost. In order to access the digital herbarium, it’s enough to enter the scientific name of a plant or use a function of advanced search. It could be used not only by taxonomists but also by the naturalist, ecologist, molecular biologist, amateur botanist,” Mr. Bharathi said. The scientist added that the virtual database is compatible with mobile and users can access the details easily.


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